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It has been a long road for everyone’s favourite cheese. The protection of halloumi cheese should have never been complicated. The firm cheese which has the unique quality of retaining its shape even when fried or grilled, has its origins in the island of Cyprus where it has been produced for many centuries. Traditionally, halloumi is made from either sheep or goats’ milk or a mixture of the two, though in recent times industrial cheese producers began sometimes using cow’s milk. This traditional cheese has reached far and wide and has gained significant popularity globally in the past decades. With this success, however, came troubles regarding its collective European trademark which has been registered since 2000.
Specifically, the HALLOUMI collective trademark faced numerous setbacks, with the General Court of the European Union, finding that the term itself had become generic and descriptive of a particular type of cheese rather than a functioning trademark. Most recently, in a decision dated 24 March 2021, the General Court alluded that perhaps the appropriate way of protection for such a name was under one of the quality schemes of the EU rather than by way of trademark law.
This was in fact, the strategy followed by the government of Cyprus which had applied on 17 July 2014 for the protection of the terms ‘ΧΑΛΛΟΥΜΙ’ (HALLOUMI)/‘HELLIM’ by way of a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) under the quality scheme of the European Commission. Product names registered as PDO are those that have the strongest links to the place in which they are made and specifically where every part of the production, processing and preparation process takes place in the specific region. As part of the system of European intellectual property rights, names of products which are registered are legally protected against imitation and misuse within the EU and in non-EU countries.
The PDO application took years of effort and was delayed not only for political reasons which always override Cyprus national matters, but also particularly due to an internal conflict between dairy producers, sheep and goat farmers on the exact ratio of milk for the official halloumi recipe.
In formal discussions on 29 March, the PDO application was discussed and finally approved. The final decision and approval of the European Commission is scheduled for 12 April 2021 and will be published shortly thereafter putting an end to the rollercoaster that was the HALLOUMI saga. These developments have been greeted with tremendous excitement by both locals and industry players. Recognizing the importance of this export for the national economy, the Cyprus government hailed this awaited development as a milestone for halloumi and for the country. After a series of blows under the trademark framework, hope and enthusiasm remain high for the newly acquired protection. The impact of these new developments remains to be seen.
Our Intellectual Property team will be following all these developments closely. For further information, do not hesitate to contact us.
[Article by Associate Athena Mavroyiannis]