Decision 4A_6/2013 of April 16, 2013 of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court affirming trademark protection for an unknown geographical indication (WILSON)

Your contact

The Swiss Federal Institute for Intellectual Property (FIIP) refused the trademark WILSON that was filed on December 10, 2010 claiming protection for tobacco products in class 34. The FIIP qualified the mark as part of the public domain. Also, the FIIP held that the mark was confusing the relevant consumer because they could be misled about the geographical origin of tobacco products labelled by the mark WILSON. This holding was based upon the fact that the city of Wilson (50’000 inhabitants) being the capital of Wilson County in North Carolina, USA is situated an area where tobacco is grown.

The applicant filed submission with the FIIP claiming that the mark would rather be perceived by the relevant consumer as a family name than as a geographical indication for tobacco products. The applicant further claimed equal treatment with the trademark WINSTON, which was accepted by the FIIP claiming protection for cigarettes that neither originate from the city of Winston, North Carolina, USA.

With decision of November 21, 2011 the FIIP finally refused the application claiming that the relevant consumer would understand the mark as geographical indication to the city of Wilson as an important US-production area of tobacco.

The applicant filed appealed with the Swiss Administrative Court. With its decision of November 16, 2012 (decision B-6831/2011) the court confirmed the appeal and allowed the mark for registration.
Thereafter the FIIP appealed the decision of the Swiss Administrative Court before the Swiss Federal Supreme Court as the final instance. With its judgement of April 16, 2013 (decision 4A_6/2013) the Swiss Federal Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the Swiss Administrative Court and finally confirmed that the trademark WILSON is eligible for protection even though the claimed tobacco products are not originating from the city of Wilson.

The court stated as a question of law that the relevant public in Switzerland does not know the city of Wilson in North Carolina, USA. In particular the average consumer of tobacco products would not recognize Wilson as an American production area of tobacco. Even if profound tobacco experts are aware of the city of Wilson this could not apply for common tobacco specialists like tobacco sellers and distributors as part of the relevant public in this case. Further, the court denied the mark being part of the public domain because of an US-trademark registration containing the term “Wilson”. This registration led the court to the conclusion that Wilson is not even assumed as a geographical indication within the USA and that there is no realistic need of potential tobacco producers in the city of Wilson to use the city’s name to promote tobacco products.

The decision of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court is noteworthy because it limits the FIIP’s tendency to assume absolute grounds of refusal for any trademark that has a geographical meaning even in places that have no relevance in Switzerland.

Share post


MLL Legal

MLL Legal is one of the leading law firms in Switzerland with offices in Zurich, Geneva, Zug, Lausanne, London and Madrid. We advise our clients in all areas of business law and stand out in particular for our first-class industry expertise in technical-innovative specialist areas, but also in regulated industries.

MLL Meyerlustenberger Lachenal Froriep


Much is still unclear in relation to liability questions around AI tools.

Read our latest post about “Liability during the Lifecycle of an AI Tool” and download our white paper.

Show article.

Our Story

MLL Legal is a leading Swiss law firm with a history that dates back to 1885. The firm has grown both organically and by means of strategic mergers, the latest of which took place on 1st July 2021 between Meyerlustenberger Lachenal and FRORIEP.

The merger establishes MLL Legal, a combined new entity as one of the largest commercial law firms in Switzerland with 150 lawyers in four offices in Switzerland and two offices abroad, in London and Madrid serving clients seeking Swiss law advice.

Our firm has a strong international profile and brings together recognised leadership and expertise in all areas of law affecting commerce today, with a focus on high-tech, innovative and regulated sectors. 

About us


Click here for our latest publications


Read all our legal updates on the impact of COVID-19 for businesses.

COVID-19 Information

Job openings

Looking for a new challenge?

Our talented and ambitious teams are motivated by a common vision to succeed. We value open and straightforward communication accross all levels of the organisation in a supportive working environment.

Job openings

Firm News

Click here for our latest firm news.

Our Team

The regulatory and technological landscape continually require businesses to adapt and evolve.
Our 150+ lawyers are continuously innovating and striving for improvement in everything they do. We embrace new ideas and technologies, combining our wealth of expertise with creative thinking and diligence. With our hands-on approach, we implement viable solutions for the most complex legal challenges.

Our Team.

LexCast – the podcast series by MLL NexGen

Smart legal education on the go. The LexCast hosted by MLL NexGen provides legal insights in a short format that allows listeners to educate themselves on and about legal issues wherever they are and whenever they find the time.

Listen to our podcast series – stay tuned.

MLL Legal on Social Media

Follow us on LinkedIn.