This article was produced by Olswang LLP, which joined with CMS on 1 May 2017.
It may be a little known fact that the “espadrille”, that popular summer shoe worn the world over, originated, not from Spain, but from the Basque country on the French side of the border. A region aptly named "Soule" of which the main capital is Mauléon-Licharre. Global recognition of this fact, however, may be just around the corner as the Soule Espadrille Association of sandal-makers, created in 2000, has applied to the French Intellectual Property Office for protection of the geographical indication "ESPADRILLE DE MAULEON – MAULEKO ESPARTINA" (“Espadrille from Mauléon” in French and Basque) in relation to the manufacture of espadrilles. Any interested parties have until 6 September 2016 to file observations with the French IP Office.
Geographical indications are signs used on products with a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation due to that origin. The place of origin of the product is essential to the indication operating as a sign. Additionally, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should essentially be due to the place of origin. As a result there exists a clear link between the product and the original place of production. The right to use a protected geographical indication belongs to manufacturers of the product situated in the geographical area defined, who comply with the specific conditions of production of the item. Espadrille manufacturers in Soule may therefore use “ESPADRILLE DE MAULEON – MAULEKO ESPARTINA" on their shoes provided the manufacturing process complies with the ancient tradition described in the application for protection, which dates back to the early 1800s but which has been adapted over the years.
This is potentially a savvy move from this association of sandal-makers to refine the production of espadrilles, which take their name from the process of making the jute sole of the shoe. Not all shoes referred to as espadrilles actually have the traditional jute sole. As consumers are paying more and more attention to the geographical origin of products and increasingly care more about specific characteristics of products, the geographical origin "ESPADRILLE DE MAULEON – MAULEKO ESPARTINA" will likely differentiate espadrilles made in this region from other shoes manufactured elsewhere, whether or not they are produced in accordance with the traditional process. Use of this Geographical Indication will no doubt give its users a competitive advantage in the market as it will add more value to their shoes and increase the shoes’ export value, particularly as 90% of complete espadrilles, as well as other jute soles, are currently manufactured in Bangladesh.
However, it remains to be seen if designer espadrilles e.g. made by the likes of Chloé, Dolce & Gabbana, Kenzo, and Saint Laurent will be made in the Soule region to give their shoes that added level of authenticity, if indeed protection of the Geographical Indication is secured. As for the Spanish shoe brand, Castañer, who has been making espadrilles since 1927 and was the first to manufacture the wedged-sole espadrilles for YSL, it would be interesting to see what if any effect the granting of this Geographical Indication will have on their distinctly Spanish shoes that are predominantly aimed at the higher end of the market.
Authorised users of the indication "ESPADRILLE DE MAULEON – MAULEKO ESPARTINA" will also be able to take action against other parties who use it without permission and benefit from its reputation i.e. free-riders. The association will therefore have to police use of the indication’s reputation - a valuable, collective and intangible asset. Policing use of the geographical indication in practice is by no means straightforward or an easy task but if not protected, the Geographical Indication could be used without restriction and its value will be diminished and eventually lost. The fun will therefore begin if and when the Geographical Indication is granted. Watch this space!