November 20, 2018
The Swiss Army knife has gained recognition as a cultural icon of Switzerland.
Originally created for the Swiss military as a practical tool to open canned food or disassemble service rifles, the ever-so-useful pocket knife is widely known for its utility. With over 100 different models, and 34,000 knives produced every day, it has even been included in museum exhibits for excellence in design (both at the New York Museum of Modern Art and the State Museum for Applied Art in Munich).
Victorinox has manufactured Swiss Army knives under the “Swiss Army” name since 1884. However, just earlier this month, Armasuisse (the Federal Office for Defence Procurement, a federal agency of the Swiss Confederation) sought damages from Victorinox amounting to $1 million for the use of its “Swiss Military” trademark in the U.S.
At the heart of the dispute was the question of who owned the rights to use the “Swiss Military” mark. Armasuisse argued that the Swiss Defense Department has exclusive rights to register, use and license the mark. The Swiss Defense Department won a years-long battle against a small watchmaker earlier this year when the Switzerland Federal Administrative Court ruled that the “Swiss Military” moniker could only be used on watches licensed by the Swiss government.
Victorinox took the position that the brand already belonged to it pursuant to a 2004 government contract that recognized Victorinox’s unconditional right to use the mark. Victorinox further argued that Armasuisse had not contested the use of the name “Swiss Military” in the U.S. for many years, and it was only after a 2013 motion on state intellectual property that Armasuisse sought to take commercial advantage of its registered use.
In the end, both parties agreed to negotiate and find a compromise. Armasuisse withdrew its initial demand for damages and told media that it did not intend to damage a brand that it considered a “valued and long-standing partner”. The negotiated agreement contemplates Armasuisse having the right to register the name “Swiss Military” in the U.S. and Canada, in return for Victorinox being awarded an exclusive licence to market perfumes using the same name in North America.
Author: Pearl Lee