World News

Swiss military defeats watchmaker in battle over naming rights

ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss military might be neutral when it comes to wars, but not when it concerns its name being used on Swiss watches.

FILE PHOTO: Swiss Army soldiers stand a guard of honour before the ceremonial for South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on the Federal Square in Bern, Switzerland January 20, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/File Photo

On Friday, the Swiss Defence Department announced it had won a years-long battle against a small watchmaker over the right to use the “Swiss Military” moniker on its timepieces.

Montres Charmex, based near Basel, had been selling its watches, which retail for $500 to $5,000 (£362 to £3627), using the Swiss Military name for more than 20 years after taking out a trademark in 1995.

But hostilities broke out several years ago after the Swiss army’s procurement agency tried to register the name with patent authorities following a change in intellectual property law.

With Friday’s ruling, Charmex’s attempt to block the government failed. The Federal Administrative Court found that the term “Swiss Military” could be used only on watches licensed by the government.

The Swiss government said the ruling strengthened its ability to protect its brands such as Swiss Army, Swiss Military and Swiss Air Force, from being commercially exploited.

The dispute is unlikely to have any implications for the Switzerland’s even more famous multi-purpose pocket knives as the Swiss Army brand was registered by the company Victorinox decades ago, the government said.

But the watch fight may not be over.

Charmex Chief Executive and co-owner Frank M. Burgin said the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property had supported his case and the latest ruling ran contrary to over a quarter of a century of practice in Switzerland.

“To allow a very recent law to have a retroactive effect is somewhat of a novelty in our jurisdictional system,” he said.

“We will most certainly continue to use our brand and sell watches under that brand,” he told Reuters.

In that case, the Swiss military, which has not fought a war since 1847, could ask the patent office to rule on whether Burgin’s watches can continue to use the name without paying for the privilege, an administrative Court spokesman said.

Reporting by John Revill; editing by John Miller and Mark Heinrich