Not-for-Profit Organisation Team of the Year: Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH

Protecting one brand is enough of a challenge, but the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH represents more than 90% of its sector in Switzerland. The majority of its work, according to in-house legal counsel Vincent Stauffer, thus involves marks other than its own: “The federation itself owns only certification marks (SWISS and SWISS MADE) in Hong Kong and the United States, but most of our actions are conducted in the name of the 50 brands of our members (the best-known 50 Swiss watch brands), which themselves own hundreds of trademarks.”

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Davis Wright Tremaine’s Roxanne Elings (left) presents the award to Vincent Stauffer and Thierry Dubois of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH

The group has a presence on three continents and sophisticated technical capabilities. “We have four sections working in the trademark sector, all of them belonging to the legal division,” explains Stauffer. “First is the legal department, managing the files. Second is an internet unit, in charge of enforcement online. Third is a technical service, with its own small lab where watches are examined and which is in charge of drafting and presenting expert opinions. Last, but not least, we have an office in Hong Kong managing enforcement actions in Asia and one person in Rio, Brazil to coordinate enforcement. Overall, there are 15 people (although the headcount represents 8.7 full-time jobs) in Bienne, Switzerland, one person in Rio and three in Hong Kong.”

The federation’s actions over the past year illustrate its global reach, encompassing enforcement efforts in the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia, Turkey and the Balkans, and Latin America. The group pursues oppositions and prosecutions for the misuse of Swiss geographical indications anywhere that the interests of Swiss watch producers are threatened. Meticulous preparation, according to Stauffer, is the team’s modus operandi: “Building up the file – gathering and analysing data – before filing an application or taking court action is very important. The support of management is also crucial.” The board, mainly composed of representatives from Swiss watch brands, gives the team unqualified support, given that brand protection is such a major part of the organisation’s raison d’être.

Creative solutions are crucial in view of the federation’s unique mandate. “I believe that there is a wide array of activities in the not-for profit associations world. Our opportunity is to be able to combine actions to protect the federation’s certification marks and Swiss geographical indications with actions to protect our members’ trademarks. The fact that the federation is in charge of protecting a country name (Swiss geographical indications/for Class 14 products), and that this task is recognised by some governments, is certainly something that is not very common.”

While the federation may have a singular mission, the challenges that it faces will be familiar to most brand owners: “As for others, I am sure, we need to find a balance between budgets to prosecute and enforce IP rights, which at best are remaining stable, and growing numbers of infringements and misuses.” The other big test is new technologies, Stauffer concludes: “The dematerialised use of trademarks – on the Internet, but also on or by smart devices – is a growing challenge. The reinforcement of the SWISS MADE criteria by the Swiss Parliament will certainly bring more cases and new questions in the future.”

Other nominees:

ALS Association

American Red Cross

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

National Association of Realtors

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