Mexico: Tourism And IP: A Bond Beyond What Is Evident

Last Updated: 1 October 2010
Article by Héctor Chagoya
Most Read Contributor in Mexico, November 2018

Touristic service-provider enterprises, such as the most prestigious hotel chains, the restaurants in fashion, and every entertainment center, are in a constant competition for providing the best quality service to their clients in order to gain their preference, as they set their strengths in an image built firstly on the satisfaction of their clients and then on marketing as its foundations. Whenever we think of protecting these services, we normally seek trademark protection.

However, it is important to highlight that there is a wide spectrum of elements present in touristic activities, which are essential to the entrepreneurs of the touristic sector, that are protected with other types of Intellectual Property (IP) rights.

For instance, there are air, marine and ground transportation services associated to tourism, which incorporate hundreds of patents focused on several aspects. For example, building the roads or the airports infrastructure, obtaining the comfort that transmitting and remote-controlling a film on a plane provides, or having different setup options on a seat. Another interesting focus is on technical operation of transport vehicles, including of course the great advances in aeronautics and in maritime transport worldwide with equal number of innovations in their operation and comfort.

Regarding on-site tourism infrastructure, hotels have implemented sophisticated administration, booking, and maintenance systems, for which they require hardware equipment as well as inventory, occupation, and shift control software. All the above are sheltered by patents and copyrights.

As well, there are patents and patent applications associated with recuperating or preventing the devastation that takes place in beaches, with residual water treatments, elevators, equipments and reactants for pool maintenance, with devices and equipments for kitchens, and industrial clothing or dish washing, bombing systems, water heaters, and an infinite number of industrial systems and equipments that make the daily operation of great hotels and restaurants possible.

When talking about sports and ecotourism, clothing (swimsuits, beach wear, sportswear, camping clothing, etc.) luggage, camping gear (canoes, swiss blades, tents, sleeping bags, etc.) mountain gear, as well as other accessories for outdoor activities, such as chairs, tables, umbrellas, etc., can be protected by the different legal figures that are available for these purpose. Depending on the grade of inventiveness, and the technical or design contribution of any of the above mentioned, there are industrial designs, utility models, and patents available in order to help the owner or producer to secure and maintain the competitive features of their creations.

For Mexico, maybe the major contribution regarding IP in tourism is found in the traditional knowledge of its communities, handcrafts, folklore, and in the wealth of its archaeological sites. The knowledge regarding the manufacture of products derived from plants such as maize, agave, coffee, beans, and chile, like chocolate and achiote, have been improved and used for centuries by indigenous communities, and conform the gastronomy that makes the delight of visitors to the country.

Handcrafting of wood, clay, and textiles has become a source of wealth to communities that depend on tourism to survive. As well, traditional knowledge has shaped a whole market niche regarding beauty and relaxation based on Temazcales - traditional prehispanic ceremony used nowadays to detoxify the body with the help of steam and herbs - and other traditional herbal treatments found in different communities in our country.

Through Denominations of Origin Mexico has been able to protect products like Tequila, Mezcal, Talavera or Cafe Pluma. These denominations, based on the traditional knowledge of our communities, have been a way of promoting tourism. Fonart, a governmental organization, has positioned many products manufactured with traditional handcrafting techniques through collective trademarks, providing a benefit to the communities that manufacture them.

At an international level, it has been studied that traditional knowledge of communities can clash with IP rights, not only in the Tourism ambit but in many others. Worst of all, abuse from people external to these communities can exist, who take advantage of this traditional knowledge and try to obtain IP rights for their own profit. Under this perspective, there is an evident necessity of generating "sui generis" IP figures in order to protect traditional knowledge and cultural expressions recognizing that they are dynamic, and that it is not possible to identify an author or an inventor for these, as the existent IP legal figures require. Until now, still no decision has been made regarding the pertinence of a special system for protecting it. However, the WIPO has recognized the importance of protecting traditional knowledge.

In conclusion, the complexity of tourism industry and its dependence on ideas, traditional knowledge and innovation to maintain visitors interest to our country in every way, finds an essential complement in the group of IP legal figures that lie beneath services offers and product sales, from the perspective of great multinational corporations present in the industry, to the perspective of autochthonous communities which depend more and more on exploiting their culture and traditional knowledge.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Héctor Chagoya
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