Bernardine Adkins spoke to BBC World's Talking Business about the urgent need for businesses to check their trade mark portfolios, in light of the UK leaving the EU. This is in light of the EU's deal with China to protect speciality regional food and drink products.


Aaron Heslehurst: Okay, here's a question, Parma Ham, Cava, Irish whiskey, you can get me? and Feta cheese, what do they all have in common? And the answer is, they've all just got special status in a deal between the EU and China. The agreement will protect the geographical origins of 100 of those products, and the methods, but does it really matter if your cured ham comes from Parma? I don't know. We'll find out. Bernardine Adkins is Partner and Head of EU Trade & Competition at the law firm, Gowling, and joins us, and a familiar face, always good to see you. We should have opened this, shouldn't we, we could have had it!? So, just for the uninitiated, is this about ... so, 100 products, 100 European products, 100 Chinese products, so that's saying a Chinese company that makes ham in China can't call it 'Parma ham', is that right?

Bernardine Adkins: Correct, yes, but if it's derived from a particular area of China that has its own protection, is produced in a certain way, it can get that protection for its Chinese product.

Aaron: Right. And this has taken a long time coming because I think in 2012 each side only had 10!

Bernardine: That's right. This is what people need to appreciate, these trade agreements take years to build trust, years and years, this hasn't suddenly happened over-night. So we started with 10, but that was only after a few years of negotiations, now we're at 100, 4 years from now there'll be an additional 175 added from each side, it takes a long time.

Aaron: The UK's hoping they can do it over-night but we'll talk about that in a second!

Bernardine: I know.

Aaron: But I am hearing, certainly some people in Europe, from the European side of things, they say, for this agreement, it has to be a company in China, with new laws in China, and especially stricter enforcement. That's always a problem, isn't it?

Bernardine: Yes, yes, historically it has been but China is now really coming of age in terms of appreciating and understanding the need and the power for intellectual protection for its own innovations, to give its own innovations protection, so China is realising that it needs to become a worldwide citizen with its own appropriate protections for intellectual property rights and innovation, absolutely.

Aaron: And I'm just looking at these three items in front of us but all together this is big business, isn't it?

Bernardine: Absolutely, and growing, and growing, because, basically, you've got an emergent middle class in China now that want high quality authentic Europe foods, there's a huge appetite for these foods and they're premium quality, premium prices as well, so a great growth area for agri food.

Aaron: And let me get this in, coming back to the UK, and of course Brexit, we can't avoid that, now, you say UK centric brands need to examine their own brand portfolio?

Bernardine: Absolutely.

Aaron: What does that mean, why do they need to do that?

Bernardine: Right, so, I think at the moment everyone's just breathing this huge sigh of relief, we've just avoided another cliff-edge, it's just like, No, please, please', everybody needs to stay focused. So, basically, you produce a product, you have a brand attached to it, there's a huge value in the brand but you want your brand, if you're UK centric, to be able to sell the product throughout the whole of the EU, all 28 member states, but what can currently happen at the moment, if, for example, a national trademark, Polish, for example, is confusing with a UK one and then they, basically, say, 'We want to elevate our trademark right to community right, to cover the whole of the EU', you could say, 'Hey, I've got a conflicting UK trademark, you can't do that', once we're out of that system ...

Aaron: Ah, we lose that.

Bernardine: ... yeah, you lose that protection. So if people have just been focusing on thinking, 'We've got an easy ride here, we've got that protection in place', that protection is going, so people need to blow the dust off their portfolios, double check what they've got there, and this is something my IP colleagues are doing a lot for people, is check out what you've got, 'Are you using it? Because if you're not using it in the EU, you will lose it over a number of years ...

Aaron: Wow!

Bernardine: ... so you need to start resurrecting those rights if they're laying dormant, start to make sure you've got yourself adequate protections within the EU.'

Aaron: And let me just throw this in because, as we were saying, seven years ago, 10 products, 100 products now on both sides and in a couple of years they plan to have 175! I didn't even know there was so much of this stuff that's designated like this!

Bernardine: Yeah, absolutely it tastes good!

Aaron: And a lot of Chinese stuff is coming into Europe, we buy a lot of the Chinese stuff into Europe!

Bernardine: That's right, you know, the various brands of tea, rice, bean paste, ginger, things that are very special to certain regions, geographic origins, etc., that you could only produce because of that locality, that weather, that earth, etc., etc., wine being an obvious example, for example.

Aaron: Okay. Bernardine Adkins, it's always a pleasure! Do you like Feta cheese?

Bernardine: Absolutely.

Aaron: It's yours!

Bernardine: That's very kind.

Aaron: Thanks very much.

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