This has now become a real saga regarding southern France, not by famous writer Marcel Pagnol, but by the French Patent and Trademark Office (INPI) and IP lawyers.
Let’s recall that since 2014, Article L721-2 of the French Intellectual Property Code states that must be considered a geographical indication the name of a geographical area or of a specific place which serves to designate a product, other than agricultural, forester, alimentary or from the sea, which is native from such area and has a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics that are essentially attributable to this geographical origin (our comment of the new law is here).
In July 2013, we wrote an article explaining why the Savon de Marseille (Marseille soap) was not always made in Marseille (here). In March 2016, we believed the Savon de Marseille could become the first geographical indication protecting industrial and artisanal products (here).
But it is not.
Two applications were filed in 2015 for registering the GI Savon de Marseille, by two different applicants. The last of the two proceedings was closed in June 2016 and the GI was not registered.
A new application for the GI Savon de Marseille was filed on the 2nd of September of 2016 by the French Association of Detergence Industries. During the proceedings, a new set of specifications was filed by the Association Savon de Marseille to overcome a provisional refusal.
However, the French PTO considered there was a modification of the applicant for the GI and noticed that the new applicant, the Association Savon de Marseille, was not even officially established when the application was modified.
For the French PTO, there was no way of verifying that this Association was really representative and the application was rejected. Moreover, the INPI explained that the set of specifications was not detailed and clear enough as regards the specific quality, reputation or other characteristics of the soap and why and how they were essentially attributable to the geographical area of Marseille.
On the 15th of December of 2017, the Court of Appeals of Paris confirmed the decision, which means the Savon de Marseille is still not protected. Needless to say, there should be new chapters of this story in the coming months…