When Is Gruyere Cheese Not From Gruyere?

Published date28 March 2023
Subject MatterIntellectual Property, Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Trademark, Trials & Appeals & Compensation
Law FirmJMB Davis Ben-David
AuthorMr Ivan Lipshitz and Jeremy M. Ben-David

A recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirming the generic nature of the geographic indication of "Gruyere" relating to cheese has become a source of severe indigestion for gastronomes, food aficionados and lovers of fine wines, spirits and luxurious delicacies and foodstuffs. This is especially so for those who rely on the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product designation to assist them in protecting their refined palettes from geographical counterfeits. More on the cheesier aspects of this subject later on.

PDO's provide legal, almost trademark - like, protection to certain exclusive products, spirits and alcoholic beverages under the legislation of certain countries. They can apply to both foodstuffs and alcoholic beverages, each uniquely produced in a specific place, region or country, and whose given quality, reputation or other characteristics are essentially attributable to its geographical origin, provided that such products meet certain prescribed conditions of manufacture or production consistent with the reputation afforded by the use of the specific geographic label. PDO's play a special role within the European Union, the U.K. and Switzerland, among others. Through PDO 's the place name of origin designation and production of food, spirit and alcoholic beverages, which are not eligible for trademark protection per se, are nonetheless reserved for the exclusive use of those companies that manufacture or produce such products originating from the designated geographical area and manufactured or produced in such prescribed manner. Unlike trademarks, however, there is no one owner of a PDO designation. It is free to be used by any company whose products meet the specific requirements of the PDO concerned.

Examples of well-known food products, spirits and alcoholic beverages to which the PDO product designation applies and where there is a link between the characteristics of the product or the food, spirit and alcoholic beverage and its geographical origin are: Champagne, Cava and Prosecco ( sparkling wines), Cognac (brandy), Balsamic (vinegar), Parma and Prosciutto (ham), Scotch Whiskey (whiskey), Kriek (beer), Hollandse Maatjes/Hollandse Nieuwe (herring), Kalamata (olives), Mozzarella, Parmigiano Gorgonzola , Pecorino and of course, Gruyere (cheeses). A more extensive list by country of other types of foodstuffs and alcoholic beverages that are the subject of PDO laws and regulations can be found here.


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