Trademark Law

'Gruyere' is generic description of cheese that isn't eligible for certification mark, appeals court says

  • Print

shutterstock_Gruyere cheese

Photo from Shutterstock.

The term “gruyere” is a generic description of cheese and can’t be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a certification mark denoting the region where the cheese is produced, a federal appeals court has ruled.

In a March 3 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, ruled against Swiss and French consortiums arguing that gruyere could only be used to label cheese that is produced in the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France.

Reuters has coverage.

“Like a fine cheese, this case has matured and is ripe for our review,” wrote Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory for the panel. “We conclude that the term ‘gruyere’ is generic as a matter of law.”

Gregory noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a standard of identity for gruyere cheese that is far less stringent than requirements in Switzerland and France. Producers in those countries “make cheese from the unpasteurized milk of cows that graze on alpine grasses,” and the cheese is made using a traditional production process, Gregory said.

The 4th Circuit’s decision upholds a ruling by the Patent and Trademark Office.

The Swiss and French consortiums seeking the mark told Reuters in a statement that they would vigorously continue efforts to protect the gruyere name.

The case is Interprofession du Gruyère v. U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.