Storm in a teabag

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The Independent Online
A $10m battle is brewing between two of the world's most famous tea companies over the shape of a teabag.

Tetley's US subsidiary says Thomas J Lipton ''violated its trademark'' by copying its round teabags. The battle for $10m damages will be fought in a Manhattan court. Tetley is Britain's biggest tea business and is owned by the international drinks giant Allied Domecq, formerly known as Allied Lyons. Lipton is a subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch company Unilever.

Tetley's lawsuit claims the round shape is not functional but is an ''arbitrary and unconventional means of identifying'' the company's goods. The company has spent millions of dollars promoting the teabag in an effort to distinguish its tea from competitors.

It also says that, at first, Lipton ran an advertising campaign criticising the round shape as being inferior, but then ''adopted a turn-about'' and began distributing round tea bags in 1993.