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New Mexico Chile Legislation Shows Power of Certification Mark

This morning I awoke to a good trademark law story on NPR.

It’s about New Mexico farmers’ efforts to protect the brand behind the New Mexico chile pepper.

They lobbied for legislation that essentially creates a certification mark out of those words.

Right now, there aren’t any direct restrictions on using “New Mexico” in connection with chiles anywhere else. As the story put it, “For now at least, anywhere else in the country, a leather shoe could be called a New Mexico chile.”

New Mexico farmers recognize their chile peppers are prized. Their chiles also cost more to produce than, say, chiles from “old” Mexico. New Mexico farmers pay workers $7.25 per hour, while that’s what workers in developing nations make in a day.

So, unscrupulous growers outside New Mexico can call their chiles “New Mexico chiles” and grab a free ride on the New Mexico chile pepper’s reputation — without charging the premium price. Indeed, that’s reportedly what they’ve done.

Now, doing so would constitute a false designation of origin, which violates Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, but that’s slightly beside the point.

The point is, New Mexico chile farmers have the right idea. Make their brand mean something specific. Like Champagne wine (which only comes from the Champagne region of France; blog post here), Parmesan cheese (which only comes from the Parma region of Italy; blog post here), and Wild American shrimp (which only are caught in the wild in the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico regions of the United States; blog post here). That way they can command the premium price they reportedly deserve, while stopping undeserving third parties from getting a free ride on their reputation.

A good lesson other producers can learn from.

IPKat’s blog post on the story — all the way from London — here.

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