Protecting geographical indications abroad

Due to the principle of territoriality, Swiss law and therefore Swissness is not directly applicable abroad, which is why enforcing protection of geographical indications is particularly difficult. Nevertheless, international agreements guarantee a minimum level of protection for the indication ‘Switzerland’ and the Swiss cross. Successfully enforcing this protection is, however, dependent on national laws.


Switzerland has concluded bilateral agreements on the protection of geographical indications and indications of source with certain countries. The indications protected under these agreements may only be used if they comply with Swiss law.


However, it is possible for national law to prevent the registration of a protected public sign as an element of a trade mark because, for example, a foreign trade mark office rejects all trademark applications containing the Swiss cross. In this case, in accordance with an international convention, the IPI can issue an authorisation which allows the trade mark to be examined and registered in a foreign trade mark register. The applicant then concludes a contract with the IPI in which he or she commits in writing to respect the legally defined criteria for determining origin. In the case of non-compliance, this agreement lapses.

Based on the same legislation, cantonal coats of arms are also protected from misuse. The use of coat of arms as an element of a trade mark and combatting misuse fall within the responsibility of the cantons.


Switzerland has acceded to the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications. The Geneva Act and the Lisbon Agreement together constitute the ‘Lisbon System’, which enables Swiss producers to protect an appellation of origin or a geographical indication abroad via a quick and simple registration procedure.