World Intellectual Property Organization

Brief background information on the legal framework of Switzerland

Prepared by the World Intellectual Property Organization

The Swiss political institutions date back to 1848.

Switzerland can be defined as a multi-party federal parliamentary democratic republic, where the Federal Council of Switzerland is the head of government.  Executive power is exercised by the government and the federal administration and is not concentrated in any one person.  Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the Federal Assembly, the Council of States and the National Council of Switzerland.  The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

For any change in the constitution, a referendum is mandatory and for any change in a law, a referendum can be requested. Citizens may challenge any law voted by federal parliament through referenda and introduce amendments to the federal constitution through initiatives. 

The Swiss Federal Council is a seven-member executive council that heads the federal administration, operating as a combination cabinet and collective presidency.  The Federal Council is elected by the Federal Assembly for a four-year term.

The President of the Confederation and the Vice-President of the Federal Council are elected by the Federal Assembly from among the members of the Federal Council for one-year terms that run concurrently.

Since 1848, the Swiss executive has never been renewed entirely at the same time, providing a long-term continuity.

Switzerland has a Federal Supreme Court with judges elected for six-year terms by the Federal Assembly. The function of the Court is to hear appeals of cantonal courts or the administrative rulings of the federal administration.

Each of the 26 cantons (states) has its own constitution, executive, parliament, courts and its own law has quite some freedom in decision-making.

Legal background

The power to introduce legislation is vested in both the Federal Assembly and the Federal Council. However, in almost all cases a new bill is not introduced by parliamentarians, but by the Federal Council.

Every new bill must be debated and approved by both chambers of the Federal Assembly. The process consists of the initiative stage, the drafting stage, the verification stage, the final decision stage and the entry into force.

Drafts of all statutes elaborated by the Federal Council are published together with an official report in the Federal Gazette.  After deliberation of the drafts by the Federal Assembly, all the bills are published again in the Federal Gazette.  From the day of this publication on, a delay of 100 days starts running for the collection of 50,000 signatures for launching a referendum. In case that nobody asks for a referendum or in case people voted to accept the new statute, it will be published in the Official Collection of Swiss Law (Recueil officiel du droit fédéral - RO).  After the new statute enters into force, its text will be integrated into existing statutes where necessary (consolidation) and added to the Systematic Collection of Swiss Law (Recueil systématique du droit fédéral - RS).  Federal Regulations of the Federal Council or of other federal authorities are also published in the Official Collection of Swiss Law as well as in the Systematic Collection of Swiss Law. The same is, of course, true for all changes of the Federal Constitution.  Most of the cantons follow a similar procedure.

Regarding enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights, the Swiss Permanent Mission notified to the World Trade Organization on August 12, 2003, under cover of notification IP/N/1/CHE/2, the Cantonal Codes of Civil Law Procedure and the Cantonal Codes of Criminal Law Procedure. The notification was made pursuant to Article 63.2 of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.

In the notification regarding the Cantonal Codes of Civil Law Procedure, it is stated that: "All Swiss Cantons and half-Cantons (26 in all) possess codes of civil law procedure setting out legal remedies and procedures for executing decisions. In the area of IP, each Canton designates a single court of first instance in respect of procedures under civil law."

As regards the notification on the Cantonal Codes of Criminal Law Procedure, it is stated that: "Prosecution is the responsibility of the Cantons. Each Canton or half-Canton possesses a code of criminal law procedure which it applies subject to the provisions of the Swiss Code of Criminal Law (Art. 365) and the Federal Law on Criminal Law Procedure (Art. 247 ff). The 26 Cantonal Codes of criminal law procedure contain provisions regarding provisional measures."

Note: The term "Status as at" that appears on certain texts defines the latest consolidated version of the text.


- Wikipedia
- Features - Introduction to the Swiss Legal System, by Fridolin M.R. Walther.

Explore WIPO