Today, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and a coalition of other dairy stakeholders prevailed in their ongoing battle to protect the right of producers to use generic names in the U.S. market.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the prior decisions of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in finding “gruyere” to be a generic term for a variety of cheese. The Fourth Circuit’s clear decision should put an end to the attempt by Swiss and French consortiums to expropriate a common food name through a U.S. certification mark registration.
The Fourth Circuit found that the evidence “is ‘so one-sided’ that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and Opposers must prevail as a matter of law. “ The Court reasoned that the “the common usage of gruyere ‘establish[es] that when purchasers walk into retail stores and ask for [gruyere], they regularly mean’ a type of cheese, and not a cheese that was produced in the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France.“ The Fourth Circuit concluded that “the Consortiums cannot overcome what the record makes clear: cheese consumers in the United States understand ‘GRUYERE’ to refer to a type of cheese, which renders the term generic.”
For over a decade, well-resourced European interests have attempted to confiscate common names to prevent non-European producers from using long-established generic terms, essentially monopolizing the ability to produce certain products for producers in limited and specific regions.
This decision reinforces that generic terms like “gruyere” refer to types of food, and a method of production regardless of where they are produced.
“The United States remains a bastion for the defense of consumers’ and producers’ property rights that have been trampled in Europe and many countries around the world,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director for CCFN. “The court has sent a clear message that European attempts to stop American producers from using generic food names in the U.S. will be firmly rejected. It is a momentous victory for American consumers, farmers and food manufacturers.”
With support from USDEC, NMPF, CCFN member companies and other allies, CCFN committed the necessary resources to show the widespread use of gruyere in the U.S. marketplace, and craft the successful argument that non-European consumers and companies should retain their rights to consume produce and sell gruyere in the United States.
“This is an outstanding result for manufacturers and farmers here in the United States,” stated Krysta Harden, president and CEO of USDEC. “We’re grateful that the Appeals Court agreed that nobody owns the exclusive right to use generic terms. This sets a terrific precedent for the right to use common food names in the United States. Now we need other countries to likewise stand up for what’s right and defend that use just as strongly.”
“Today’s announcement represents a significant win for America’s dairy farmers,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “NMPF rejects blatant European attempts to unjustly limit competition from American companies and will continue to fight alongside our allies to oppose efforts to monopolize common name foods.” CCFN and its members support the protection of legitimate geographical indications but will continue to fight against efforts to build unfair trade barriers. You can learn more with an informational video on CCFN found here.