A recent decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) highlights the overlap between trademark law and food regulatory law as well as the United States’ and Europe’s different approaches to Geographic Indications (“GIs”).  GIs identify the particular location where an agricultural product (such as cheese, wine, or spirits) originates.

Interprofession du Gruyère, a Swiss association, and Syndicat Interprofessionnel du Gruyère, a French association, jointly filed a U.S. trademark application at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) on September 17, 2015 to register the term GRUYERE as a certification mark for cheese.  The Swiss association already owned Registration Number 4,398,395 for the certification mark LE GRUYERE SWITZERLAND AOC and Design.  In the new application, the French and Swiss associations sought to register the term GRUYERE as a word mark, meaning that they made no claim to a particular stylization or design.  In effect, if the USPTO granted registration of the French and Swiss associations’ application, the associations could prevent others in the U.S. from using the term “gruyere” on cheese made outside of the Gruyere region of Switzerland and France.

The U.S. Dairy Export Council and several other entities filed to oppose the associations’ application on the basis that the term “gruyere” is generic for a style of cheese in the U.S.  (In full disclosure, Emily was employed during part of this proceeding at the International Dairy Foods Association, another opposer in the case, and assisted it in this proceeding before joining Husch Blackwell.)  Most of the other entities ultimately withdrew their oppositions or the TTAB dismissed their claims.
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