Italian cheese producer Biraghi's battle to keep a geographically protected trademark for its products has gone sour after the a EU court rejected its claims yesterday.
The decision could set an important precedent for other disputes over the EU's geographical indications (GI) system, adopted to restrict the manufacture of certain products to geographical areas or methods needed to preserve quality.
In its ruling, the Court of First Instance of the European Communities said that the term "grana" was not in fact a generic term for hard cheese. Biraghi's claim to a trademark was therefore deemed to be in conflict with an existing GI, a protected designation of origin (PDO), for "grana padano".
Biraghi now has two months to appeal to the European Court of Justice against the verdict.
However, under the current legislation, the court has overturned a decision consistently revoked and reinstated since its inception in 1999.
Biraghi had originally registered the term "Grana Biraghi" through the European Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) for a number of its cheese products.
That was retracted by the OHIM the same year though, after the Italian consortium Consorzio per la tutela del formaggio Grana Padano obtained a declaration from the office's cancellation division that that mark infringed on their own GI, and was invalid.
The OHIM once again amended their decision upon further appeal from Biraghi, ruling that "grana" was a generic term and should not therefore be exclusively be trademarked by a producer.
The issue was then taken to the Court of First Instance of the European Communities, which led to the latest ruling.
This is not the only controversy regarding Italian cheese and the GI system.
In June, an EU advocate general urged the European Court of Justice to dismiss claims by the European Commission that the term "Parmesan" could not be used to describe some hard cheeses made in Germany.
The GI system is broken down into classifications on protected designations of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), and traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG) food and drink products.
PDOs, such as that granted to Roquefort cheese, must be produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using a recognised, specified method.
PGIs, such as Newcastle Brown Ale, require a link between at least one stage of production, processing or preparation and the region, place or country of origin.
TSGs, such as the Belgian cherry-flavoured beer Kriek, highlight the traditional composition or a traditional method of processing or preparation of a product.