Producers, retailers, government agency representatives and researchers met at the University of Arkansas for a day-long conference on July 2 to discuss what the future holds for products that originate in the United States such as Kona coffee, Idaho potatoes, Napa Valley wine and Missouri northern pecans.

The conference was held in conjunction with an agile agriculture summit, sponsored by the Applied Sustainability Center, housed in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, on June 30 and July 1.

Elizabeth Barham, research associate at the University of Missouri Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology, organized the July 2 conference. Her research focuses on the rural development impacts and potential for origin products in the United States. Origin products are identified as a type of local food that also benefits its home region by having high value when traded externally, either in the United States or abroad.

The U.S. Origin conference allowed producers to describe the situation for each of their products in national and international markets, stressing the difficulties they face protecting the intellectual property value associated with their product name.

During the meeting, an exploratory committee was established to examine the feasibility of establishing a national association for producers of American-origin products. The group set up a second initiative to develop a national inventory of America-origin products and lay the groundwork for more research into their economic, social and environmental benefits.

Discussion at the conference helped to clarify the United States’ position on trademark protection vis-à-vis a more international system of registering products as appellations related to origin, or geographical indications, a different type of intellectual property linked to territory or place. A key conclusion was that trademark protection, while less burdensome in terms of government involvement, leaves small and medium producer groups responsible for the legal costs of defending their product name in case of usurpation, costs they may not be able to bear.

Presenter Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas, emphasized the impacts of globalization on the food system and the impossibility of avoiding involvement with global legal systems, particularly when exporting. The nature of global intellectual property protection covering geographical indications continues to evolve. Generally speaking, the United States is not well aligned with global trends away from trademarks for origin products and towards development of national and international registration systems.

Janie Hipp, national program leader for risk management for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, followed up with a new twist in thinking about American-origin products: the “Made by American Indians” trademark ( Approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1995, the mark covers products from federally recognized tribes who have registered to use it. Fourteen tribal organizations participate currently, marketing products ranging from New Mexico chillies to South Dakota buffalo meat and Massachusetts oysters.