9 Dec 2021 | Trade Marks

Protection of the Swiss Army Knife

With judgement rendered on 15 June 2021 in the case 33 O 7646/20, the Regional Court of Munich ruled on the use of various indications of geographical origin with reference to Switzerland. Specifically, the ruling concerned the famous Swiss Army Knife of the traditional Swiss company Victorinox. The court clarified that the indications "SWITZERLAND", "SWISS" as well as the national flag of Switzerland enjoy a high reputation as indications of geographical origin in relation to pocket knives and multifunctional tools.

Background

 In the underlying case, the traditional Swiss company Victorinox objected the offer and sale of pocket knives and multifunctional tools bearing the indications "SWITZERLAND" and the national flag of Switzerland. In the proceedings Victorinox has alleged that the defendant was appropriating the reputation of these indications of geographical origin for its own products. While Victorinox manufactures the Swiss Army Knife and multifunctional tools in Switzerland, the defendant's products are produced in China and belong to the low-price segment. Nevertheless, these products were labelled with the words "SWITZERLAND" and the national flag of Switzerland. Only a small sticker on the back of the packaging of the defendant's pocket knives and multifunctional tools suggested that the products originate from China. 

Decision of the court 

The Regional Court of Munich granted the action and specifically ordered the defendant to cease and desist from further offering and selling the pocket knives and multifunctional tools at issue. The indications of geographical origin "SWITZERLAND", "SWISS" and the Swiss national flag are associated with special values in relation to pocket knives and multifunctional tools and therefore enjoy a high reputation. In the court's opinion, this is even obvious in the legal sense and hence does not require proof in the proceedings. Consumers would expect a high quality from products from Switzerland; this is also true for the Swiss Army Knives sold by Victorinox. Accordingly, such products are associated with special quality and enjoy a high degree of recognition. By transferring this special reputation to the products manufactured in China by means of "Switzerland-related" labelling, the defendant exploits this reputation. The public would inevitably make an association with the quality and tradition of Swiss pocket knives, with the result that the target public would associate the defendant’s products with similar ideas of quality and value. For these reasons, it was irrelevant whether or not the indications on the defendant's products misled customers as to the geographical origin of the products. Delocalising references on the products, such as a reference to their origin from China, were irrelevant. 

Conclusion 

The Regional Court of Munich has confirmed that the indications of geographical origin "SWITZERLAND", "SWISS" as well as the national flag of Switzerland enjoy a special reputation with respect to pocket knives and multifunctional tools. Accordingly, there is an extended scope of protection with regard to these and similar indications. Whether or not an indication referring to Switzerland in connection with pocket knives and multifunctional tools may actually mislead the public, is of no relevance. Insofar as the products are not from Switzerland, the use of such indications is per se unlawful.