“It is clear from the record that the term GRUYERE may have in the past referred exclusively to cheese from Switzerland and France,” Ellis wrote. “However, decades of importation, production, and sale of cheese labeled GRUYERE produced outside the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France have eroded the meaning of that term and rendered it generic.”
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 from the region around the town of Gruyeres, Switzerland, sued in U.S. District Court in Virginia after the federal Trademark Trials and Appeals Board denied an application for trademark protections.
The consortium said gruyere — often a mild, smooth-melting cheese that’s a favorite for fondues — has been made to exacting standards in the region since the early 12th century and cheese made outside the region can’t truly be called gruyere, similar to the argument that champagne can be only be applied to sparking wines from the Champagne region of France.
But the U.S. Dairy Export Council and other groups opposed the trademark protection. They said American consumers understand the gruyere name to be generic, applying to cheeses of a certain style regardless of their place of origin.
In a decision made public last week, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis ruled against the Swiss consortium, finding that American consumers do not associate the gruyere name with cheese made specifically from that region. While similar trademark protections have been granted to Roquefort cheese and Cognac brandy, Ellis said the same case can’t be made for gruyere.
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