Canadian Prime Minister visits Switzerland

On Friday, 22.10.2010, Stephan Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister on his way to the Sommet de la francophonie in Montreux stopped over in Bern for an official visit. According to the Swiss government a protocol was signed amending the Double Taxation Agreement between both countries and it was announced that the bilateral aviation agreement would be expanded:

The discussions served as an opportunity to take stock of bilateral relations between the two countries, which have been enhanced in the
economic field following the entry into force in July 2009 of the free trade agreement between Canada and EFTA. The subjects of international
governance and new rules and standards for finance and trade were also raised. Canada currently chairs the G8 and in June hosted the G20 Summit
in Toronto. Both countries work closely with the International Organisation of La Francophonie; the visit took place on the eve of the
opening of its XIII summit at which Canada will hand over the chair to Switzerland. The partners also discussed regional issues and reform of
the United Nations.

The official discussions concluded with the signing of a protocol amending the double taxation agreement by Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf
Merz and Josée Verner, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, President of the Queen’s Privy Council and Minister for La Francophonie. The
amended agreement is expected to come into effect in 2012.

President Doris Leuthard and Prime Minister Stephen Harper also announced the conclusion of negotiations on updating and expanding the
1975 bilateral aviation agreement between Switzerland and Canada. The main effects of the revised agreement will be to liberalise tariffs and
introduce traffic rights for stopovers and destinations via the two countries. The amendments will benefit passengers, airports, airlines
and freight carriers, as well as general economic relations between Switzerland and Canada.

Details about the double taxation agreement can be found here, and the press release of the Canadian government is here.

The 23rd Sommet de la francophonie takes places from Friday, October 22 to Sunday, October 24 in Montreux, which is on lakefront of Lac Léman.



Restitution of Illicit Assets Act passed by Swiss Parliament

I hadn’t realised that this law had already passed if it weren’t for a tweet from Pakistan (Hat Tip: Syed Ali Raza Abidi)

On October 1, 2010, the both houses of the Swiss Parliament passed a new law that will somewhat facilitate the restitution of “potentate funds”, or assets of politically exposed persons (PEPs) who are most likely illicit. The law closes a gap in Swiss law that lead to difficulties when the government in question fails to cooperate in the restitution of the funds. As the Federal Council wrote in its Dispatch (Message accompanying a law submitted to Parliament):

Nevertheless, the growing phenomenon of so-called “failing states” has shown up the limits of the system, in particular in the Mobutu and Duvalier cases. The draft law therefore comes into existence as a result of difficulties encountered by the Swiss authorities in returning assets frozen in Switzerland to such states following the failure of the process of international mutual assistance to produce a satisfactory result.

The vote was Ständerat (State Council) voted 41 yes to 0 no, while the Nationalrat (National Council) voted 161 yes to 32 no.

It remains to be seen whether future cases will be handled with less issues than previous ones since much depends on the corporation of the countries in question. As the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs writes on its website:

Restitution of potentate funds

Potentate funds that manage to enter Switzerland despite comprehensive precautionary measures have to be identified and repatriated to their country of origin. This so-called restitution is an important instrument in the Switzerland’s policy of combating illegal monies. Therefore Switzerland has returned about CHF 1.7 billion to their countries of origin, which is more than any other financial center of a comparable size. Individual cases attract considerable publicity on account of the high profile of the people and the amounts of money involved. Examples include:

the Montesinos case, Peru, 2002
the Marcos case, the Philippines, 2003
the Abacha case, Nigeria, 2005
the Angolese assets case, Angola, 2005
the Kazakh assets case, Kazakhstan, 2007
the Salinas case, Mexico, 2008

Some cases are particularly complex to solve. Among them, one can mention the Mobutu case (Democratic Republic of Congo/DRC) and the Duvalier case (Haiti). In the Mobutu case, Switzerland strove during 12 years to return the frozen assets to the DRC. This challenge finally failed among others because of the lack of cooperation of this State. In these circumstances, the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland (FCC) ruled on 14.07.2009 against pursuing a complaint regarding these assets. The freezing of Mobutu’s assets in conformity with the decision taken on 30.04.2009 by the Federal Council (Swiss Government) has therefore been lifted.

Below is the English text. Beware though that English is not an official language of Switzerland and the English translation is for informational purposes only. Only the French, Italian and German versions are relevant in law.

Kazakhstan to join Swiss group at IMF and World Bank

Flag of Kazakhstan

Flag of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan to join Swiss group at the IMF and World Bank

Kazakhstan had declared and interest in joining the Swiss group at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) which consists – besides Switzerland – of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

During a conference call on Tuesday, 20.07.2010, the Swiss Federal Council has expressed his support of Kazakhstan joining the group.

The membership will formally be completed in the autumn, when the IMF and WB Executive Directors are elected. In the IMF, the Swiss group will then have voting rights of 2.05% of the total.

Sources: Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, IMF

Swiss National Bank expects mid-year loss

SNB Zürich

SNB Zürich

Swiss National Bank expects mid-year loss

The expected loss is around CHF 4 billion and is mostly due to the appreciation of the Swiss Franc against the Euro.

Of the increase of CHF 132 billion in foreign currency investments the bulk was in Euro leading to a loss of over CHF 14 billion. The income from other currency positions and the rising gold price limited the SNB’s half-yearly loss to around CHF 4 billion.

The Stabfund results are not included but are expected to make a significant positive contribution.

The definite half-yearly results will be available from August 13, 2010.

Source: SNB

Swiss Ambassador to Theran released

Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, Lidia Leu Agosti

Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, Lidia Leu Agosti

Swiss Ambassador to Theran released

According to news from Press TV, the Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti, has been released a few hours after she was arrested.

Apparently, she was arrested on a trip – which was announced to relevant authorities – to the north of Khorasan Province, because “her identity was not established at that time”.

At this time there is no further information from the Swiss Foreign Ministry available.

Experimental solar plane flies overnight

Solar Impulse Aircraft

Solar Impulse Aircraft

Experimental solar plane flies overnight

The experimental solar powered plane named Solar Impulse landed safely at 9:00 at Payerne airfield where it had started at 7:00 one day earlier.

The plane has 12,000 solar panels, a wingspan of 63.4 meters and a weight of only 1,600 kilogram and reached a height of 8,535 meter.

In theory the plane can fly indefinitely said Piccard’s team.

The long-term objective is to fly a second, lighter plane around the world in 20 to 25 days somewhere after 2013.


Swiss Court denies Apple Trademark Application for IPHONE

In a ruling of November 24, 2009 the Swiss Federal Administrative Court has denied Apple’s trademark application for the name “IPHONE”. As Macworld wrote:

Apple’s appeal for reconsideration of its trademark application for the word “iPhone” has been rejected by the Swiss Federal Administrative Court, which maintained that the term is a non-distinctive word for which Apple could not be granted a trademark.

Right, iPhone not distinctive? Let’s check what the Court actually said.

The Court did point out that part of the name “IPHONE” was “phone” which couldn’t be used as a trademark. It then went on to check if the addition “I” does anything to make “IPHONE” distinct enough from “phone” to allow for a registration as a trademark. The relevant part of the ruling reads:

3.3.3 Wird das Zeichen “IPHONE” gesamthaft und in Bezug auf die beanspruchten Waren der Klasse 9 betrachtet, so ist die Interpretation des Zeichens “IPHONE” als direkter Hinweis auf ein Telefon mit internetbezogenen- oder anderen informations- bzw. kommunkationstechnologischen Zusatzfunktionen naheliegend. Der Buchstabe “I” könnte aber allenfalls mit “Ich” und das Zeichen “IPHONE” als “Ich telefoniere; Ich rufe an” interpretiert werden. Allerdings ist im englischen Sprachgebrauch “I call” für “Ich telefoniere” üblich. Für einen durchschnittlichen Abnehmer bleibt aber gleichwohl unklar, was der Buchstabe “I” im Zusammenhang mit dem Begriff “phone” genau bedeutet. Diese Bedeutung ergibt sich zwar nicht sofort aus der Marke selbst, jedoch liegt eine technische und elektronische Bedeutung des Zeichens “IPHONE” auf der Hand. Unabhängig von der genauen Bedeutung des Buchstabens “I”, trägt dieser als solcher jedoch nichts Wesentliches dazu bei, den beschreibenden Charakter des Markenbestandteils “phone” abzuschwächen. Das Zeichen wird durch die Kombination des Einzelbuchstabens “I” mit dem unterscheidungsschwachen und für den Verkehr unentbehrlichen Markenbestandteil “phone” somit nicht unterscheidungskräftig.

3.3.3 When the sign “IPHONE” is examined overall and in relation to the claimed products of class 9, the interpretation of the sign “IPHONE” as direct hint to a telephone with additional functions based on Internet or other information or communication technologies, is obvious. The letter “I” could, however, be confused with the word [personal pronoun] “I” and the sign “IPHONE” could thus be confused with “I phone”. However, in English language usage mostly “I call” is commonly used for that purpose. Nevertheless, for an average user it remains  unclear, what the letter “I” actually means. The meaning is evident, however, not from the sign itself, but from the technological and electronic meaning of the sign “IPHONE”. Notwithstanding the exact meaning of the letter “I”, it does, as such, not significantly contribute to alleviate the descriptive character of the sign-part “phone”. The sign, even with the addition of the letter “I”, therefore is too weakly descriptive  for a term that is indispensable for communication and is therefore not distinctive.

It seems to me that the reasoning is a bit weak. Especially since, as Apple noted in the proceedings, that such signs as “IDOCUMENT”, “IPROJECT”, etc had been granted a trademark by the same courts that were now denying “IPHONE” the trademark registration.

The Federal Administrative Courts explains this away by confirming the lower court’s view:

Die Vorinstanz äussert sich in ihrer Stellungnahme vom 14. Juli 2009 klar zu ihrer Praxis und legt dar, dass von vereinzelten Fehleintragungen, teilweise aufgrund von Entscheiden der ehemaligen Rekurskommission, auszugehen sei

The lower court in an opinion of July 14, 2009 clearly comments its custom and explains, that this is a case of isolated mis-registrations, caused by erroneous decisions of previous commissions.

I remain unconvinced. So they changed their ‘customs’ somewhere between the last “IWHATEVER” and the “IPHONE” trademark application? I am not sure whether this is already final, since it could be appealed to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.

Text of the ruling (German) is here.