The Swiss IPO refused registration of the mark ALTEC LANSING for audio equipment (loudspeakers etc.) unless the list of goods was restricted to goods originating from the USA, arguing that Lansing was the capital of Michigan and the sign was misleading for goods not from the USA. We are all well familiar with this argument by now - any geographic indication is considered misleading unless it is impossible to produce the goods in question at the indicated place. And it is certainly not impossible to manufacture loudspeakers in Lansing, although such goods mostly come from China these days.
But this time, the Federal Administrative Court heard the appeal and reversed the decision, permitting the registration of ALTEC LANSING without a limitation of the list of goods. The Court argued that Lansing was virtually unknown to Swiss consumers, despite the fact that Michigan State University was based there (Michigan what?? - I am a graduate of U of M, Ann Arbor...). Lansing was also a surname. Lansing was mentioned only 123 times in Swiss newspapers during the 4 years prior to the filing of the mark. While the understanding of Lansing as a surname was not predominant, together with the fanciful sign ALTEC, no relevant part of the public would perceive Lansing as a geographic indication.
I am glad this case came down this way, and it will hopefully knock some sense into the Swiss IPO. However, I can't shake the feeling the Court was subconsciously influenced by the fact that ALTEC LANSING is a fairly well-known mark for loudspeakers - although the applicant had not claimed that the mark had acquired secondary meaning, and the issue was not addressed in the judgment.
The decision is not final - the IPO can appeal it to the Federal Supreme Court, and in this case, I would not be wholly surprised if they did (although the Court quite cleverly based its judgment on a factual appraisal of the perception of LANSING by the relevant public, and the Supreme Court is bound by the established facts of the case).