Dairy groups thanked the leaders of four Congressional committees for questioning the way a United Nations agency is considering treaty changes that could "erode established trademark rights" and limit use of generic cheese names.
The groups said the Senate Finance, House Ways and Means, Senate Judiciary, and House Judiciary committees addressed the issue. The eight leaders of the committees urged the World Intellectual Property Organization to follow past practice by allowing all WIPO member countries to have an equal voice in determining any changes to the Lisbon Agreement.
The lawmakers sent a letter to WIPO suggesting that the views of the United States and other member countries are not being fully considered as WIPO looks at expanding the scope of the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin.
The letter said there are consequences of an agreement that fails to address the concerns of trademark holders and common name users.
The letter said without these safeguards, companies in the U.S. could "see their sales opportunities and intellectual property rights eroded in various markets around the world."
The leaders said this is already occurring in many countries where U.S. companies face geographical indications registrations that threaten to block use of common food names.
"The proposed changes in the Lisbon Agreement are clearly aimed at preventing U.S. dairy producers and processors, and others, from using names in international trade that they have used for decades, such as feta, parmesan, havarti, asiago and others," said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.
The World Intellectual Property Organization is a United Nations agency charged with developing a balanced international intellectual property system. It is scheduled to consider the expansion to the Lisbon Agreement at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in mid-May. Work to prepare for that meeting is actively underway in Geneva.
"Unless these meetings are opened to the larger WIPO membership, the amendments completed by 30 or so countries could adversely affect the rights of all WIPO members to use common food names in global trade," said Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. "The proper protocol must be maintained to ensure the continued growth of U.S. dairy exports."