Judge rules 'gruyere' a common food name
A judicial ruling has determined that “gruyere” is a generic style of cheese that can come from anywhere. The decision reaffirms that all cheesemakers, not just those in France or Switzerland, can continue to create and market cheese under this common name.
In the judicial decision made public last week, the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), and a coalition of other dairy stakeholders prevailed in their sustained fight to preserve the ability of all actors in the U.S. marketplace to use generic terms.
“Not only is this a landmark victory for American dairy farmers and cheese producers who offer gruyere, this win sets a vital precedent in the much larger, ongoing battle over food names in the United States,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director for CCFN. “The European Union has tried for years to monopolize common names such as gruyere, parmesan, bologna or chateau. This verdict validates that we’re on the right path in our fight on behalf of American food and wine producers to preserve their ability to use long-established generic names.”
According to the Court’s decision, the arguments of the French and Swiss associations were “insufficient and unconvincing” and CCFN presented “overwhelming evidence that cheese purchasers in the United States understand the term GRUYERE to be a generic term which refers to a type of cheese without restriction as to where that cheese is produced.”
Meanwhile, Europe continues its aggressive and predatory efforts to confiscate names that entered the public domain decades ago. The latest attack was launched by the French and Swiss gruyere associations which had sought to register “Gruyere” as a certification mark in the United States, thereby enabling them to prevent use of the generic term by others in the U.S. marketplace. The USPTO determined last year that the application should be denied, in the process upholding the widespread generic use in the U.S. of the term “gruyere.”
“French and Swiss gruyere producers already have access to the U.S. market and the use of distinctive trademark logos,” noted Castaneda. “In fact, the Swiss association has already registered a logo certification mark with the USPTO for ‘Le Gruyère Switzerland AOC’ to help it uniquely brand Swiss gruyere. Despite this, both foreign associations appealed the USPTO’s ruling to the federal court last year.”
“This is a huge victory for common sense and for hard-working manufacturers and dairy farmers,” said Krysta Harden, USDEC president and CEO. “When a word is used by multiple companies in multiple stores and restaurants every day for years, as gruyere has been, that word is generic, and no one owns the exclusive right to use it. We are gratified that Judge Ellis saw this straightforward situation so clearly and upheld the USPTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s finding that gruyere is an established generic term.”