A judicial ruling 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, according to a press release from the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN).
In the judicial decision made public on Jan. 6, CCFN, USDEC and NMPF said they 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.
Senior Judge T. S. Ellis III of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia upheld the Aug. 5, 2020, precedential decision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
“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 Arlington, Va.-based 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 that refers to a type of cheese without restriction as to where that cheese is produced,” the organizations noted.
Meanwhile, Europe continues its “aggressive and predatory efforts” to confiscate names that entered the public domain decades ago, the organizations said. 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 United States 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.”
With support from USDEC and NMPF, their member companies and non-member companies that contributed to supporting the opposition, CCFN dedicated extensive time and resources throughout the appeal process to demonstrate the extensive use of gruyere in the U.S. marketplace and persuasively argue that all cheesemakers and their customers should retain their rights to continue to produce and sell gruyere in the United States.
“This is a huge victory for common sense and for hard-working manufacturers and dairy farmers,” said Krysta Harden, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based USDEC. “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.”
CCFN, USDEC and NMPF said they support valid geographical indications — compound names associated with specialized foods from regions throughout the world — when used in good faith rather than to establish unfair trade barriers to the sale of common name foods and beverages.
“NMPF continues to firmly oppose any attempt to monopolize generic names like Gruyere and to reject blatant European market-share grabs designed to limit competition,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-headquartered NMPF. “Today’s announcement is a landmark win for American dairy farmers and the commonly named cheeses they produce and sell around the world.”