U.S. court says French, Swiss groups cannot restrict 'gruyere' cheese label

Swiss Gruyere cheese is offered at a supermarket of Swiss retail group Coop in Zumikon
Swiss Gruyere cheese offered at a supermarket of Swiss retail group Coop in Zumikon, Switzerland December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

March 3 (Reuters) - The name "gruyere" can be used to label cheeses from outside of the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France, a U.S. appeals court said on Friday, in a victory for U.S. dairy groups and others.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ruling that "gruyere" can legally be used to describe cheese regardless of where it was made.

The USPTO rejected a bid by two groups representing cheese producers from Switzerland and France for a mark that would restrict the use of "gruyere" to cheese from Gruyère itself.

The groups said in a statement that they were disappointed by the decision and would continue to "pursue vigorously" their efforts to protect the name.

U.S. Dairy Export Council president Krysta Harden said in a statement that the decision was an "outstanding result for manufacturers and farmers here in the United States."

Gruyere cheese, "widely considered among the greatest of all cheeses," was first made in the Swiss district of La Gruyère in 1115, the court said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has standards to certify gruyere cheese, but the court said they are "far less stringent" than Switzerland and France's and do not include geographic restrictions.

Switzerland's Interprofession du Gruyère and France's Syndicat Interprofessionnel du Gruyère asked the USPTO in 2015 to certify that gruyere cheese only comes from the Gruyère region. But the USPTO rejected the request after finding gruyere is a generic, unprotectable word for a type of cheese.

The European groups appealed after a Virginia federal court upheld the ruling in 2021.

"Like a fine cheese, this case has matured and is ripe for our review," Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote on Friday for a unanimous three-judge panel that affirmed the decision.

The case is Interprofession du Gruyère v. U.S. Dairy Export Council, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-1041.

Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington; editing by Leigh Jones and Aurora Ellis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, for Reuters Legal. He has previously written for Bloomberg Law and Thomson Reuters Practical Law and practiced as an attorney. Contact: 12029385713