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WORKING TOGETHER TO TACKLE THE MISUSE OF SWISSNESS ABROAD

The high market value of goods labeled as made in Switzerland is subject to various threats. One of these is the misuse of declarations of origin, such as the use of the term “Swiss”, as well as images such as the Swiss cross. Many consumers make inferences about product quality based on declarations of Swiss origin on product labels.

IGE Building

The good reputation enjoyed by Swissness attracts copycats

As a brand, Switzerland offers Swiss companies added value amounting to 5.8 billion Swiss francs per year. But this so-called “Swissness premium” attracts copycats. The reputation of Swiss products and services suffers as a whole if all items labeled as Swiss are not actually from Switzerland.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IGE) intervenes up to 400 times per year worldwide

In principle, everyone can act to tackle the misuse of Swiss declarations of origin. According to the legislator, professional and business associations, consumer protection organizations, and the IGE are expressly authorized to lodge complaints. The latter plays a key role in law enforcement: The study shows that the IGE is the driving force when it comes to implementing Swissness at home and abroad. The business associations, companies, and specialized attorneys surveyed rate its impact as “very positive.” With 300 to 400 interventions per year worldwide, the IGE is extremely active.

The role of business associations

At present, the role played by business associations varies depending on the sector in relation to the enforcement of Swissness in law. According to the study, many associations explicitly delegate the task of combating abuse to their members and do not take action themselves. However, for most companies, tackling product and brand piracy takes priority over combating deceptive information concerning origin. Accordingly, they only act to prevent the abuse of Swissness if this simultaneously harms company or product brands.

When “Swiss cheese” has nothing to do with Switzerland

Swiss laws apply only to Switzerland. Exporters of goods, food products, and services cannot benefit from the added value of the Swissness premium abroad if declarations of Swiss origin are used there unrestrictedly. This is a problem, for instance, if terms such as “Swiss cheese” are no longer associated with a Swiss origin. Or if the Swiss cross, used for medical services, becomes generic. Swiss producers are also being tempted not to subject themselves to Swiss rules in other countries. This behavior contributes to the dilution of declarations of Swiss origin and undermines successful legal enforcement abroad.

Chinese trade mark office takes on an exemplary role

For many years, individual associations, companies, and the IGE have fought in isolation against the misuse of the Swiss cross and coat of arms. The absence of Swiss law in foreign countries makes it extremely difficult to protect Swissness – though not impossible. The fight against abuse is most successful when protection is rooted in national law, as it is in China. The Chinese trade mark office consistently rejects registration attempts featuring Swiss crosses or the word “Swiss” as a brand element if the applicant cannot provide authorization from the IGE.

This recent practice by the Chinese shows that coordinated collaboration between the IGE, business associations, and companies pays off on a legal and political level. In other countries too, this could contribute to making sure that only genuine Swiss products are described as such.

Consolidating strengths

Experience to date has shown that both business associations and the IGE have too little power to make a mark on their own in their autonomous enforcement activities abroad. For this reason, the key players in the legal enforcement of Swissness have joined forces to establish an association: Swissness Enforcement. Since the start of 2021 it has spearheaded the battle against abuse abroad and supported interventions by its members. As well as increasing efficiency, collaboration enables the geographic expansion of interventions and allows small sectors and companies to get involved in the defense of Switzerland as a brand. Synergies make legal measures most cost-efficient and effective. Members benefit from the accumulated know-how of all associations, the Swiss embassies, and the international network of Switzerland Global Enterprise.
 

FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE TOPIC SWISSNESS

Do you have questions about one of the topics mentioned?

Contact the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property by e-mail or telephone!

Telephone: +41 31 377 77 77

E-mail: info@ipi.ch

 

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