Provence & Côte d'Azur: Perfume industry fights to protect secrets
Grasse perfumers unite in Brussels
According to the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), “formulae have traditionally been a closely guarded secret and are an important piece of intellectual property for the fragrance industry.”
Fragrance formula can not be patented and the industry relies heavily on Trade Secrets, which prevents them from being forced to disclose the individual ingredients that comprise their fragrance.
Now, European laws are increasingly requiring manufacturers to be more transparent about their products, to protect consumers and the environment. And it is not the same standard for each European country. France, for example, has little protection while Germany has strong Trade Secret laws.
“Incentives to innovate, particularly within the European Union, have been weakened not only by piracy in Asia and other rapidly developing economies, but also by inconsistent Trade Secret protection offered by EU Member States’ legislation in this area,” says the IFRA.
Around eight per cent of the world's perfume sales are made in Grasse - the perfume capital of Europe. With growth of 20 per cent and an export rate of 70 per cent, the sector is one of the flagships of the French economy. Nevertheless, the industry is concerned.
“Europe happens to be one of the most recognised cradles of creative perfumery and ingredient expertise world-wide. Its heritage deserves to be protected and its innovative know-how further unleashed,” argued the IFRA to the European Parliament.
On the other hand, say critics, Trade Secrets laws also allow companies to include hazardous substances in their fragrance products without either the regulators or the consuming public knowing. According to an article published in the Journal of Intellectual Property Law, various chemicals that have been tested and proven to be extremely hazardous to human health have been found in some perfume and other fragranced products. As a result of Trade Secrets law, consumers are left with trial and error to determine whether ingredients in the perfume formula will cause an adverse health reaction.
The perfume industry maintains however that keeping its ingredients secret is essential to protecting their trade.
“The European Union has an extraordinary concentration of industries for which trade secrets are essential to compete successfully. The fragrance industry is one and we would like to see an appropriate place for trade secrets within the European Union’s intellectual property regime.”
Critics argue that the threat is over-exaggerated: “It is highly unlikely that this knowledge (of individual ingredients) would be worth very much in an industry in which competitors constantly try to distinguish their products from others in the marketplace rather than make them smell alike. Fragrance manufacturers probably either already know the ingredients contained in competitors' fragrance formulas or would have little trouble reverse engineering a competitor's product to determine its ingredients. This is evidenced by the plethora of knock-off perfumes which smell similar, if not identical, to the original brand of perfume,” wrote the authors of the article.
Speaking at the exhibition in Brussels, Grasse perfume manufacturers said they are not opposed to regulation, however they are fearful of revealing too much. "We must find a balance in consumer information,” argued Eric Angelini, Product Safety Director for Grasse company Mane.
Around 65 per cent of the country's perfume companies are located in Grasse, employing more than 3,500 people.