US judge says gruyere is a common food name

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

The AOP designation for Gruyère has been recognized at European level since December 2011.
The AOP designation for Gruyère has been recognized at European level since December 2011.

Related tags: Cheese

A ruling in the US courts says gruyere is a generic style of cheese that can come from anywhere.

The decision means US cheesemakers, not just those in France or Switzerland, can continue to create and market cheese under the common name.

The cheese is named after the community of Gruyères, in Switzerland.

In Europe, Gruyère gained the Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) status in 2001. Although Gruyère is recognized as a Swiss Geographical Indication in the EU, Gruyère of French origin is also protected as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in the EU. This cheese must show it comes from France and producers must ensure it cannot be confused with Gruyère from Switzerland.

The AOP designation for Gruyère has been recognized at European level since December 2011 when its denomination was changed to Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP).

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 won their challenge to preserve the ability for producers in the US 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 August 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 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.

“French and Swiss gruyere producers already have access to the US market and the use of distinctive trademark logos​.”

“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.”

“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, NMPF president and CEO.

“Today’s announcement is a landmark win for American dairy farmers and the commonly named cheeses they produce and sell around the world.”

Related topics: Markets