Targets legislative reforms against infringement
The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) recently approved the application of the Guimaras mangoes to be registered as a geographical indication (GI). This marks the country’s first registered GI and brings the “sweetest” success to Guimaras Mango farmers who have worked for about a decade for the coveted seal.
“Ngayon, kapag nakatatak na yung GI, [sana] almost double na from the local price [Now with the GI seal, we hope local prices will double]. So additional income sa farmers,” Guimaras Mango Growers and Producers Development Cooperative (GMGPDC) President Felipe Z. Gamarcha said when asked on the economic benefits his group hopes to savor from the GI approval. Gamaracha was referring to the farm gate price of Guimaras Mangoes which averaged P200 in 2022. This already marks an astronomical rise from the P20 to P50 that one kilo would usually fetch before the association secured a collective mark in 2017.
A GI serves as a marketing tool that accentuates a product’s distinctiveness and appealing narratives. A GI seal certifies a link between the quality, characteristics and reputation of a product and its geographical source. These factors may have been shaped due to environmental influences, such as soil and climate, or human factors, such as tradition and local know-how.
“We see great potential of the system not only in spreading development outside our bustling metropolitan areas, but also in ensuring that the people of the originating locality benefit from their produce,” IPOPHL Deputy Director General Ann Claire C. Cabochan said in her opening remarks.
What makes a Guimaras Mango the “sweetest”
After applying in November 2022, the GMGPDC’s application was approved by IPOPHL on 13 May 2023 after passing the Bureau of Trademarks’ (BOT) thorough examination process. During the month-long publication period that followed to allow for third-party protests, the association also did not face any concerns of possible damage to an existing trademark.
In its Manual of Specifications (MOP) for Guimaras Mangoes — a primary requirement to its registration as a collective mark in 2017 and even today as a GI – the GMGPDC describes their fruit as a typical “Carabao” mango variety. It is shaped like an ellipsoid with a rounded crown and an oblong end that features a distinct broad shoulder and full cheek weighing an average of 160 grams or more. Its flesh is meaty, smooth, firm, juicy and non-fibrous. It is also thin-seeded, making over 80% of the fruit edible.
Its tagline, “the sweetest mango,” is also proven by the Total Soluble Solids (TSS) test conducted by the Bureau of Plant and Industry – Guimaras National Crop Research, Development, and Production Support Center. The TSS is measured by Brix or the grams of soluble solids — mainly sugar compounds — per 100 grams of solution. Guimaras Mangoes yield a sweetness of at least 16° Brix, considered above average.
These qualities are attributed to the province’s calcareous soil, which is abundant in calcium and magnesium and ensures proper drainage. Calcium is increasingly recognized as a key factor in mango production, influencing both quality and yield. The province’s topography, characterized by moderate undulations, rolling to steep slopes and varying elevation, also proves suitable for cultivating the “Carabao” mango variety.
Climate likewise plays a crucial role in the mango production, as highlighted in the MOP. The absence of rain during the flowering period is critical to prevent pollen from washing away and mitigating risks of infestation. Rain also disrupts the activity of pollinating insects, negatively affecting the fruit set. To ensure optimal conditions, the province plants between June and November. The peak harvest season occurs in May and is celebrated through the Manggahan Festival.
The MOP also laid out several practices relating to soil management and other pre-planting preparations up to post-harvest handling, packing and storage. It also detailed the rules and standards on product labeling, control and traceability which association members should adhere to maintain use of the GI seal.
Guimaras Mangoes are produced across the entire island province of Guimaras which is comprised of five municipalities — Jordan, Buenavista, San Lorenzo, Sibunag and Nueva Valencia.
While it may have taken the association less than a year to secure protection, the first steps toward GI trace back to 2013 when it first worked with the European Union under the Trade-Related Technical Assistance Project and consulted with IPOPHL.
Former Provincial Economic Development Officer Elena V. Quezon recalls the extensive meetings that took place before members could reach consensus over a single characteristic of the product. Many were negotiating for production processes and requirements that were achievable but still preserved the premium qualities that characterize the Guimaras Mangoes.
“For our co-participants here who will be applying for the GI, don’t be discouraged because we have this journey but now we are enjoying the gains we have,” Quezon said. She revealed the association is already getting offers to export to the Czech Republic, Dubai and Republic of Korea after making its first export to Switzerland of an initial two tons in 2022.
Infringement, a major concern
One major challenge Quezon hopes to resolve following the GI registration is infringement. Quezon hopes for stronger safeguards to prevent deceptive traders from falsely claiming their products as Guimaras mangoes when they did not meet approved standards.
“Mango producers in other regions would claim when they bring their products in Metro Manila, Cebu and even Hongkong, they would claim it is from Guimaras,” she added.
“Now we have a validating process. However, for us farmers and producers, we don’t have yet the way to check or to let them be punished for claiming its guimaras mangoes because it’s affecting us economically. We’re at a loss for institutional development, that’s where we need help, who can help us police,” Quezon said.
The issue of infringement is not unique to Guimaras mangoes alone. At the same forum, Camiguin lanzones producers expressed similar concerns, as some traders misleadingly market their lanzones as originating from Camiguin, taking advantage of the fruit’s esteemed reputation.
Alexandra Mayr, the Program Manager of the EU IP Office’s CARIFORUM IP Rights and Innovation, highlighted that infringements are major challenges faced by GIs in the EU as well. She cited EU research, which revealed that nearly 60% of producers in craft and industrial products complain about infringements as a significant problem.
A sui generis GI law for automatic enforcement
Recognizing the challenges posed by counterfeiting, BOT Director Jesus Antonio Z. Ros acknowledges the importance of establishing a strong GI regime through a sui generis law. Such legislation would provide GIs with the necessary protection that conventional IP systems may not offer.
“In our proposed legislation, we make violation of GI a crime against the economic and cultural interests of the State, which means it can be enforced by the latter without private stakeholders initiating the process,” Ros said at the forum.
“Hopefully, our legislators will support our initiative,” Ros noted with a positive outlook, citing the vigor of legislative partners such as Senator Loren Legarda and Congressman Christopher De Venecia, who are staunch advocates of culture and showed great interest in GI as key speakers at the GI Forum.
The envisioned bill will also be in line with IPOPHL’s plans to bring the Philippines to accede to the 2015 Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement.
The Geneva Act provides a streamlined international registration route for GIs, facilitating potential market expansion in over 70 contracting member countries.
“The pursuit of this international registration framework highlights the Philippines’ commitment to protecting its unique products and promoting them on a global scale,” Director General Rowel S. Barba said.
Under the Geneva Act, GIs also enjoy an indefinite duration of protection as long as the main geographically attributed qualities are preserved. Hence, unlike with the collective and certification mark systems, which require renewal after 10 years, GIs registered under the Geneva Act won’t need renewal, saving on both time and costs.
To date, about 1,130 GIs are registered under the Geneva Act. IPOPHL has identified over 30 potential GIs which are being assisted for domestic registration, and later international protection once the Philippines accedes to the Act.
“Registration is just the beginning. IPOPHL will continue to work with the agencies, the local government, and the communities. We hope to ensure the farmers, producers and distributors reap the most rewards from their premium goods and cultural products,” Barba said