The industry association Emmentaler Switzerland was unable to protect “Emmentaler” as a trademark. Why? Well, the CJEU was of the opinion that many German consumers only consider “Emmentaler” as a type of cheese and not as a protected trademark.
The dispute revolved around whether the term “Emmentaler” could only be used for cheese that came from Switzerland, more precisely from the Emmental. Emmentaler Switzerland was of the opinion that only cheese from Switzerland should bear this designation. Otherwise, the region of origin, for example “Allgäuer Emmental”, should be specified. The industry association therefore filed a complaint with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to have the term protected as a trademark in the EU.
But the EUIPO refused the registration and the case ended up before the CJEU in Luxembourg. The ECJ upheld the EUIPO’s decision and dismissed Emmentaler Switzerland’s complaint.
Why? Because, according to the ECJ, “Emmentaler” only describes a type of cheese for German consumers and does not indicate its geographical origin. This descriptive quality of the term meant that it cannot be registered as a trademark.
The perception of the public, who understand “Emmentaler” simply as a delicious type of cheese and not as a protected brand, was decisive for the court’s decision. This leaves the term free for anyone who wants to use it, as long as it refers to cheese.
Of course, Emmentaler Switzerland has the option of appealing the ECJ judgment to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It remains to be seen whether the industry association will take this step. However, it remains questionable whether the fight to protect the “Emmentaler” in court will ultimately be crowned with success.
In the meantime, cheese lovers can continue to enjoy “Emmental” regardless of its origin.
If you would like to research a bit what is protected as a geographical indication, you are welcome to take a look at the database: https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/food-safety-and-quality/certification /quality-labels/geographical-indications-register/