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EU court finds holes in Swiss cheese trade mark claim

Taken from | Author: Molly Quell | Date: 24 May 2023

The Alpine-style cheese, which originated in the west-central Emmental region of Switzerland, is famous for air pockets left by bacteria during production.

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — A Swiss cheesemaking group was left blue on Wednesday after the European Union’s second-highest court rejected a request for protected status for the country’s famed Emmentaler cheese.

After weighing the arguments, the European General Court denied Emmentaler Switzerland’s appeal against a decision from the bloc’s trade mark registration office, which found the holey cheese did not qualify for “designation of origin” status.

The lobbying group argued that the traditional cheesemaking industry in the Emmental region could be shredded by impersonators from abroad. The cheese has protected status within Switzerland and globally, from the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The missing piece was obtaining official status from the EU Intellectual Property Office, which confers special status to food products with particular geographic origins. Since 1992, the EU has allowed the protection of some foods to promote rural agricultural activity and protect consumers from fake products.

The Luxembourg-based court did not think the need for protection for Emmentaler cheese was great enough, concluding the name refers to a kind of cheese, rather than the region where it was made.

“The term 'Emmentaler' was descriptive of a type of cheese … and was not perceived as an indication of geographical origin of that cheese,” the three-judge panel's ruling states.

Emmentaler Switzerland obtained global trademark protection in 2017, and that same year filed for EU protection. The EUIPO rejected both the application and an appeal from the lobbying group in 2019.

Swiss cheesemakers use three types of bacteria in the production of Emmentaler cheese, which leaves small holes throughout the medium-hard cheese. The cheese has been produced in a region of the Swiss countryside, near Bern, since the 1200s.

Groups promoting other types of cheeses have avoided being creamed by the EU court. The Danes’ argument that “feta” was a generic term crumbled before judges last year, with the court upholding Greek protection of the term. In 2020, the Halloumi Foundation won a trademark case against a competitor over white salty cheese from Cyprus.

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