Monday, January 17, 2022

Judge pokes holes in Swiss cheesemakers’ legal arguments

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia (AP) – Gruyere cheese does not have to come from the Gruyere region in Europe to be sold under the Gruyere name, a federal judge ruled.

A consortium of Swiss and French cheesemakers from the region around Gruyeres, Switzerland, filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in Virginia after the Federal Trademark Board rejected a trademark protection application.

The consortium stated that Gruyere – often a soft, melting cheese favored for fondue – has been produced in the region to exacting standards since the early 12th century, and cheese produced outside the region cannot truly be called Gruyere like cheese. The argument that champagne can only be applied to sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France.

But the US Dairy Export Council and other groups have opposed trademark protection. They said that American consumers understand the name Gruyere as a generic term for cheeses of a particular style, regardless of their origin.

In a decision released last week, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis ruled against the Swiss consortium, finding that American consumers do not associate the name Gruyere with cheese made specifically from the region. While similar trademark protection was given to Roquefort cheese and Cognac brandy, Ellis said the same case could not be made for a Gruyere.

“It is clear from the records that the term Gruyeres may have in the past refer exclusively to cheese from Switzerland and France,” Ellis wrote. “However, decades of import, production and sale of GRUIERE cheese produced outside the Gruyères region in Switzerland and France have destroyed the meaning of the term and made it common.”

Among other things, he referred to the fact that the FDA regulates the use of the name Gruyere and that none of the requirements indicate its place of origin.

The Gruyere Consortium will appeal against Ellis’ decision.

Shauna Morris, senior vice president of trade policy at the US Dairy Export Council, said the Gruyere litigation is part of a renewed effort in Europe to secure international trade protection for a variety of products, including gorgonzola, Asiago and feta cheeses, and meat lunches. in Bolognese.

“We are very pleased that the judge, in our opinion, did the right thing,” she said.

The European consortium did not respond to an email requesting comment. In court documents, her lawyers argued that the Swiss and French Gruyeres were “painstakingly crafted from local natural ingredients using traditional methods that provide a link between the geographic region and the quality and characteristics of the final product.” They said that allowing others to use the Gruyere name would confuse American consumers.

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