Intellectual Property Insights from Fishman Stewart
Mini Article – Volume 23, Issue 18
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By Kristyn Webb
Parmigiano-Reggiano, often simply referred to in the US as “Parmesan,” is considered one of the most famous and prestigious cheeses in the world. Parmigiano-Reggiano has a long history, dating back to the Middle Ages. It was created as a way to preserve excess milk and has since become one of Italy’s most iconic food products.
Due to its prestige and recognition, Parmigiano-Reggiano is sometimes counterfeited or imitated with similar-looking cheeses. However, true Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be produced under specific conditions in designated areas. The term “Parmigiano-Reggiano” is legally protected within the European Union as a Protected Designation of Origin designation. This means that only cheeses produced in specific regions of Italy and adhering to strict production standards can bear the name “Parmigiano-Reggiano.” However, there is no similar protection for designations of origin in the US. So, in the US, Parmesan cheese might be made in Wisconsin.
This difference in cheese labeling has been a friction point between the US and EU. Without a clear path forward to harmonize the laws, one cheesemaker has turned to technology to combat counterfeiting. The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano is a consortium of dairy farms in the European Union that produce Parmigiano-Reggiano. They have announced plans to put microchips in the casing of their cheese wheels. The microchip is around the size of a grain of sand and is embedded in the casein label, which is the edible casing on the wheel. The microchip uses blockchain technology to record the provenance and shipping data of each wheel. A handheld scanner is used to scan and read the data emitted by the microchip’s transponder.
And what if you eat it? The company that produces the chips, the p-Chip Corporation, states that the chips have passed laboratory tests where they sat for three weeks in synthetic stomach acid without leaking any dangerous materials. They further state that, because the chips cannot be read remotely, or even locally once ingested, there is no threat that they will be used to track people.
While microchipping cheese wheels might seem extreme, it is worth noting that the global Parmesan cheese market is projected to reach $20 billion USD over the next five years. That’s a lot of cheddar!
Kristyn Webb is the Group Leader of Fishman Stewart’s Copyright Practice Group, and is currently earning a Master’s Degree in Copyright Law at King’s College London.
Published September 22, 2023
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