Trademarks: Catfish by Any Other Name

Chauvinism turns to protectionism, as regions claim rights to the names of common foods

Blame it on the French. More than any other people, they have promoted the notion that the taste of a food is inextricably bound to the place where it is grown. As early as the 1920s, France's winemakers were restricting use of the term Bordeaux to wines produced in that area. In 1974 they engineered an international treaty that declared that only bubbly from the Champagne region could be labeled champagne, forcing other producers of sparkling wines (including vintners in Champagne, Switzerland) to scramble for synonyms like methode champagnoise.

Now, though, the French idea is catching on worldwide, as the...

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