Gruyére cheese is a namesake from the town where it was first made in 1115. This name has traditionally been used to refer to cheese made from milk produced in specific regions in southern Switzerland and eastern France.
Last month, cheese mongers of the world likely drew an exacerbated gasp when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld a decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that held it is acceptable to use the term “gruyére” to describe cheese regardless of its origin.
Two groups from France and Switzerland had filed a trademark application with the USPTO to register the word “GRUYERE” as a certification mark. The challengers, including the U.S. Dairy Export Council, argued that “gruyére” had become a generic term and thus was ineligible for trademark protection.
In upholding the USPTO’s decision, the 4th Circuit’s analysis hinged on whether the relevant public chiefly understand the term “GRUYERE” as a type of cheese or as indicating that the cheese originated in the Gruyére regions of Switzerland and France. As a member of the relevant public, how do you view the term?
Although seemingly a win for domestic cheese producers, the next time you walk by the cheese section of your local supermarket, you can be just a little less certain of where the cheese came from.