On March 16, 2022, the French Court of Cassation ruled in favor of the INPI, which had rejected the application for registration of the geographical indication “SAVON DE MARSEILLE” (Marseille soap) filed on December 26, 2017 under No. 17-005 by the Association Savon de Marseille France (ASDMF) on the grounds that the application was incomplete and that the specifications did not meet the conditions set forth in the texts.
The Geographical indications for craft and industrial products (GI CIP) was created to protect the name of a product associated with a geographical area, the product having to meet a precise specification, for the protection of the consumer and a healthy game of competition between economic actors. To date, the INPI has approved 11 GI CIP since the creation of this title in 2016 to protect and promote regional craft know-how.
Although the name “Savon de Marseille” speaks to all French people and resonates well beyond the national territory, the disparity of products sold under this name for decades and the divergent interests of the various manufacturers seem to make it impossible to set up an GI CIP.
Currently, the term “Savon de Marseille” corresponds to a manufacturing process approved by the French General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control since 2003. The manufacturing method consists of 4 steps and excludes some ingredients. However, its definition is broad enough that most of the “Savon de Marseille” soaps do not come from Marseille, Provence or France!
Two other GI CIP applications were also filed with the INPI on June 16, 2015 and December 22, 2015, respectively by the Association of Marseille Soap Manufacturers and the Union of Marseille Soap Professionals representing various manufacturers. They have not been registered.
In the decision that is the subject of this communication, the INPI had initially considered that the specifications sent by the ASDMF did not delimit an area or a place that would guarantee that the characteristics of the product could be attributed to the geographical area associated with the GI, since the area indicated was France, even though the name of the desired indication contains the geographical name Marseille.
The French Court of cassation held that the INPI had not exceeded its powers and had rightly retained that the specifications were incomplete since no geographical area or specific place associated with the product concerned was delimited.
If it is possible that the geographical area of a GI CIP “Savon de Marseille” is wider than the city of Marseille, it is still necessary that the guarantors of this potential GI CIP determine it in accordance with the specifications and determine the nature and qualities of a Savon de Marseille.
In the meantime, pay attention to the ingredients and the manufacturing methods indicated on the packaging of your soap!
− Eléonore DAUPHANT, IP Attorney and Partner at Mark & Law
- PIBD No. 1181 of May 2, 2022
- Les étapes clés du dépôt de l’indication géographique. INPI [Accessed on May 3, 2022]. Accessible by clicking here.
- Savon de Marseille (Marseille soap). Wikipedia. [Accessed on May 3, 2022]. Accessible by clicking here.