A legal battle between two of Britain's biggest razor manufacturers ended in victory for the consumer yesterday.
European judges ruled that trademarks could not be used to monopolise the sale of everyday household products.
The case centred on the Philips three-headed rotary shaver, which the company has sold in Britain since 1966 and registered as a trademark in 1985. In 1995, Remington started selling its DT 55 shaver, also a three-headed rotary shaver with the heads arranged in a similar equilateral triangle. Philips sued for infringement.
But the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg held that companies should not be granted a monopoly, via trademark registration, on technical solutions or functional characteristics.
The judges said traders must be allowed the freedom to sell products incorporating technical solutions or functional characteristics in competition with each other.
The High Court had previously found Philips's registration to be invalid. Philips appealed, and the Court of Appeal referred a number of questions to the ECJ and stayed the action pending its judgment.
Abida Chaudri, a solicitor at Bristows, which deals with specialist intellectual property, said: "This confirms that shapes that perform technical functions cannot be registered as trademarks. Technical solutions are to be protected by other intellectual property rights like patents, limited in time and not trademarks, which are a monopoly capable of being renewed for ever."
Packaging shapes, such as a Toblerone bar, can be still be protected because they do not have a functional purpose.
Neil DeFeo, Remington's president, said: "We are delighted with the outcome in the interests of consumers as it will bring about greater choice and value." Philips declined to comment until officials had read the full judgment.
The Court of Appeal will now consider the case in light of the ECJ's judgment.
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