FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Gruyere cheese does not have to come from the Gruyere region of Europe to be sold under the Gruyere name, a federal judge has ruled.
A consortium of Swiss and French cheesemakers based in the Gruyeres region of Switzerland filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Virginia after the Federal Office of Trademark Examination and Appeals denied an application for trademark protection.
The consortium said Gruyere – often a mild, smooth-melting cheese popular for fondues – has been made to high standards in the region since the early 12th century, and cheese made outside the region cannot really be called Gruyere be similar to the argue that champagne can only be applied to sparkling wines from Champagne in France.
But the US Dairy Export Council and other groups opposed trademark protection. They said that American consumers understand the Gruyere name as generic and applied to cheeses of a particular style regardless of its place of origin.
In a decision released last week, US District Judge TS Ellis ruled against the Swiss consortium, noting that American consumers do not associate the name Gruyere with cheese made specifically from that region. While similar trademark rights have been granted for Roquefort cheese and cognac brandy, Ellis said the same cannot apply to Gruyere.
“The records indicate that in the past the term GRUYERE may have referred exclusively to cheeses from Switzerland and France,” Ellis wrote. “But decades of importing, producing and selling cheese labeled GRUYERE made outside of the Gruyère region in Switzerland and France have undermined the meaning of that term and made it generic.”
Among other things, he cited the fact that the Food and Drug Administration regulates the use of the Gruyere name and that none of the requirements indicate place of origin.
The Gruyere Consortium is appealing Ellis’ decision.
Shawna Morris, senior vice president of trade policy at the US Dairy Export Council, said the Gruyere lawsuit is part of increased efforts in Europe to seek international trade protections for a variety of products, including gorgonzola, asiago and feta cheese. Meat.
“We’re thrilled that we think the judge here made a great decision,” she said.
The European consortium did not respond to an email asking for comment. In court filings, his lawyers argued that Swiss and French Gruyere are “carefully crafted from local, natural ingredients using traditional methods that ensure the link between the geographic region and the quality and characteristics of the final product.” They said allowing others to use the Gruyere name would confuse American consumers.