Legal Environment

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In this page: Business Contract | Intellectual Property | Legal Framework of Business | International Dispute Resolution


Business Contract

General Observation
The role and responsibility of the vendor (including methods of quality control and packaging details) should be clearly mentioned. Due diligence of the company with whom you are signing the business contract is generally suggested. Although any company listed in the Swiss Trade Register is considered to be a legitimate company and is required to keep accounts and to maintain a balance sheet. However, the register does not reveal information about a company’s financial status and business practices.
Law Applicable to the Contract
Swiss Code of Obligations (“CO”)
Advisable Incoterms
Choose CIF or FOB.
Language of Domestic Contract
German, French, Italian or Romansch. English is generally used in all international contracts.
Other Laws Which Can Be Used in Domestic Contracts
Generally the laws and courts of America and other European countries including England are likely to be accepted by any Swiss supplier.
The parties are free to choose the governing law of a contract. If not expressly agreed on by the parties, the applicable law is that of the country in which the party performing the characteristic obligation under the agreement in question resides.

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Intellectual Property

National Organisations
The body in charge of the protection of intellectual property in Switzerland is the Federal Institute of the Intellectual property (IGE).
Regional Organisations
Convention on Grants of European Patents (European Patent Convention of 1973).
International Membership
Member of the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)
Signatory to the Paris Convention For the Protection of Intellectual Property
Membership to the TRIPS agreement - Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)

National Regulation and International Agreements

Type of property and law Validity International Agreements Signed
Swiss Patent Law of 1954; revised in 2007
20 years Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)
Swiss Federal Trademark Statute
10 years; extendable for another 10 years. Trademark Law Treaty
Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks
Swiss Federal Statute on the Protection of Designs and Industrial Models
5 years; extendable up to 25 years.  
Swiss Federal Copyright Statute
Life long; 50-70 years after death of person. Berne convention For the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms
Rome ConventionFor the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations
WIPO Copyright Treaty
WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty
Industrial Models
Swiss Federal Statute on the Protection of Designs and Industrial Models
5 years; extendable up to 25 years.

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Legal Framework of Business

Equity of Judgments

Equal Treatment of Nationals and Foreigners
Federal laws are applied uniformly in the country. Foreign nationals can expect a free trial from the country’s judicial system.
The Language of Justice
The judicial languages used in the country are: German, French and Italian.
Recourse to an Interpreter
Legal Similarities
The main source of the law is the Constitution of 1848, amended completely in 1874 and 2000.

The Swiss federal system is characterised by substantial decentralisation. The cantons and half-cantons have control over much of economic and social policies having their own laws, with the federal government's powers largely limited to foreign affairs and some economic policy.

The country’s legal system is based on civil law system influenced by customary law and judicial review of various legislative acts.

Switzerland accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, but with reservations.


The Different Legal Codes

Overview of Swiss laws Swiss Laws
Checking National Laws Online
Swiss Institute of Comparative Law
Other Useful Resources
Swiss Federal Constitution
Swiss Federal Court
CH - CH, The Swiss Portal.
Country Guides
LexMundi, Guide on the legal environment in Switzerland

The Jurisdictions

Canton courts Each canton has several courts of primary jurisdiction (in larger cantons so-called district courts) and one court of appeal. They usually cover civil and criminal cases. Administrative matters are heard by a special court. The courts of primary jurisdiction normally consist of five or three members. In the four cantons of Zurich, Bern, Aargau and St. Gallen civil matters are heard in commercial courts if they involve commercial transactions of a certain value of the matter in dispute. In some cantons specialized courts exist for labor disputes and for rent tribunals.

Certain matters such as disputes about industrial property law and other specialized matters are heard before the court of appeal as first instance.

Federal Court (Tribunal fédéral/Bundesgericht) It is the highest court and the final court of appeal in Switzerland. The main location is in Lausanne and the primary function is to provide for a uniform application of federal law throughout the country.

A Federal insurance court (Tribunal fédéral des assurances/Eidgenössisches Versicherungsgericht), located in Lucerne, has appellate jurisdiction for certain disputes involving social security and insurance matters.

In April 2004, the new Federal criminal court (Tribunal pénal fédéral/Bundesstrafgericht), located in Bellinzona, took up its functions as the federal court of first instance and the court of appeal in certain criminal matters.

In 2007 the Federal criminal system was completed by the addition of a Federal administrative court (Tribunal administratif fédéral/Bundesverwaltungsgericht) with seat in St. Gallen.

The members of the Federal courts are elected in a joint session of the National Council and the Council of States.


Court Officials

The members of the Federal courts are elected in a joint session of the National Council and the Council of States. Public elections (judges of trial courts) and parliamentary elections (judges of cantonal appellate courts) determine which of the candidates put forward by the political parties will become judges. There are strict rules concerning the impartiality of judges, and, in general, a judge may be rejected if circumstances indicate that he/she could be biased in any way.
Public prosecutors
In Switzerland the role of the Public Prosecutor is performed by a representative of the Criminal Commission. The structure, appointment methods and the jurisdiction of the public prosecutor’s office vary from canton to canton. In certain cantons, the power to appoint public prosecutors lies in the executive while in others it lies in the legislature.
Attorneys at law
Any person wishing to enter the profession of attorney must graduate from a Swiss school of law. In addition he/she should be a member of Swiss Bar Association. But to be admitted to the Bar, he/she must "apprentice" in a canton, for a period of nearly two years under the supervision of a qualified lawyer, followed by passing the bar examination for that canton (there is no "federal" bar examination in Switzerland).

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International Dispute Resolution

Due to security, political stability, a highly developed infrastructure and neutrality, Switzerland has a long tradition as a place for international arbitration. A number of chambers of commerce offer arbitration services. Among these, the most important are the Zurich and the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, but also the Swiss-German or the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. Each of these chambers offer their own arbitration rules designed for international arbitration cases.
Arbitration Law
Chapter 12 of the Private International Law Act 1987.
Conformity to International Commercial Arbitration Rules
Party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
Party to the Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses.
Party to the Geneva Convention of the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
Appointment of Arbitrators
The arbitration panel generally consists of three arbitrators. Each party has the right to choose one arbitrator, and these two arbitrators elect the chairman.
Arbitration Procedure
Swiss arbitration tribunals frequently use arbitration rules such as the ICC Rules of Arbitration or the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. However, the parties to the arbitration are free to choose the rules governing the arbitral proceedings as well as the law governing the subject matter in dispute. International arbitrations are governed by Chapter 12 of the PIL Act, which applies to all arbitration cases where the arbitral tribunal has its seat in Switzerland and at least one of the parties had no domicile or habitual residence in Switzerland at the time when the arbitration agreement was concluded.
Permanent Arbitration Bodies
ICC International Court of Arbitration
Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Industries (CCIG)
Zurich Chamber of Commerce

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Latest Update: July 2024