The Swiss Army may now enter the brand name “Swiss Military” in the national trademark register, according to a final decision made by the Federal Administrative Court on January 22 and announced on Friday. The case had been brought against a Swiss watch company that has been using the name for over 20 years.
In 2013, the Swiss Army, represented by the Federal Office for Defence Procurement, Armasuisseexternal link, asked the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Propertyexternal link (IPI) to register the brand name “Swiss Military” for “watches and timekeeping instruments of Swiss origin”. But the Basel-based Charmex watch company opposed the move, saying it had registered the same name for similar products back in 1995.
The IPI therefore rejected Armasuisse’s request, arguing that a Swiss law protecting coats of arms, which stipulates that an official name can only be used by the service or authority it designates, could not be applied in the case of a conflict between two identical names registered for the same category of products.
Armasuisse then appealed to the Federal Administrative Court, which disagreed with the IPI on this point.
“Given that only Armasuisse is authorised to use the official designation “Swiss Military”, its “Swiss Military” brand must be added to the Swiss trademark register,” the court said in a press statement.
According to Reuters, the Swiss government welcomed the ruling with the expectation that it would help protect its other brands, like Swiss Army and Swiss Air Force, from commercial exploitation.
However, the St Gallen-based court did not rule on the related but separate question of whether Charmex may continue to also use the name.
In its argument, the company said it had been selling watches under the Swiss Military name since 1996 and that it has made significant investments in marketing the brand.
"We will most certainly continue to use our brand and sell watches under that brand," Charmex Chief Executive and co-owner Frank M. Burgin told Reuters on Friday.
A spokesperson for the Federal Administrative Court told Reuters that Armasuisse could potentially ask the IPI to rule on whether Charmex may continue to use the Swiss Military name without paying for the privilege.