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The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) and a coalition of other U.S. dairy stakeholders prevailed today in their vigorous opposition to lengthy efforts by French and Swiss gruyere associations to trademark the term "gruyere" in the United States. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rejected that application finding that the term gruyere is a generic style of cheese.
"This is a victory for consumers as it preserves a variety of choices for shoppers in the cheese case by safeguarding a term that has been used by cheesemakers outside of Europe for many years," said CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda. "We support the rule of law, which clearly guided the USPTO in making this decision."
CCFN, working alongside several of its members, as well as non-member companies that contributed to supporting the opposition filing, dedicated extensive time and resources throughout the litigation to demonstrate to USPTO that all cheesemakers and their customers had the right to continue to sell gruyere in the United States. There is a U.S. Standard of Identity regulation for gruyere, which specifies the requirements for how this type of cheese is made regardless of where it is produced. At the same time, the Swiss can identify their gruyere in the U.S. market through use of the logo "Le Gruyere Switzerland AOC", which the USPTO approved in 2013.
While an appeal is possible in the case, CCFN views this decision as extremely positive and in keeping with other notable positive developments in the U.S. market in recent years. For example, Italy's asiago consortium (Consorzio Tutela Formaggio Asiago) last year finally dropped its efforts to register a U.S. trademark for exclusive use of the term "asiago" in the United States in the face of steadfast efforts by CCFN and the USPTO's recognition of the generic nature of that term. And more recently, USPTO took steps to bolster its measures for evaluating and safeguarding widespread use of generic terms.
CCFN supports valid geographical indications (GIs) - names associated with specialized foods from regions throughout the world that are used in a compound form - when used properly and not to establish unfair trade barriers to generic foods.
"We continue to firmly oppose any attempt to monopolize generic names that have become part of the public domain, which is a blatant market-share grab designed to limit competition. Today's decision on gruyere allows all cheesemakers, not just those in France or Switzerland, to continue to create and market this common name cheese - that's something we should all celebrate," Castaneda said.