Lindt's trademark hopes felled by lawyers' rabbit punch

 

Lindt & Sprüngli, the Swiss confectioner that has produced gold-foiled and be-ribboned chocolate rabbits for the past 60 years, has been dealt a crushing blow by the European Union's Court of Justice.

Its judges ruled that Lindt cannot register its bunny as a trademark in the EU. Their decision brings to an end a vicious chocolate bunny war between the company and its Austrian rival, Hauswirth, which has been raging since 2004. Hauswirth has been making bunnies for 50 years.

In a withering judgement, the Court of Justice confirmed on Thursday that Lindt's bunny had "failed to establish that the marque has an inherent distinctive character". The court ruled: "The combination of the shape, the colours and the pleated ribbon with a small bell are not sufficiently different from the wrapping of other chocolate products, specifically rabbits," the court ruled.

Lindt, which claims to sell about 60 million chocolate bunnies every year, copyrighted its design in 2000. "Our bunny is magical, majestic even. We will protect it," senior Lindt managers said in a spirited defence of their product, which was then stamped with a company logo.

But in 2004, Lindt became embroiled in an increasingly acrimonious legal battle with Hauswirth, which, along with a handful of other European manufacturers, also produces gold foil covered chocolate rabbits with red ribbons and bells around their necks.

Lindt's lawyers insisted Hauswirth should change the colour of the foil on their rabbits to bronze and use green ribbons. Hauswirth refused, lost the first round of the court battle, and judges ruled that Hauswirth could no longer sell its bunnies in the interim.

Further ignominy was heaped on the company in April last year when an Austrian court also ruled that Hauswirth had to stop making its bunnies.

Adalbert Lechner, a Lindt senior manager, had hoped that would be the end of the matter. But Thursday's ruling has proved him wrong. Lindt has so far not commented on the court's ruling and, despite its triumph, no one from Hauswirth has responded to requests for comment, either.

Names and places: Protected species

Champagne Protected in the 1891 Treaty of Madrid, which said that sparkling wine could only be only called Champagne if produced in the French region with grapes from that area.

Parmesan A row over Italy's famous formaggio reached the courts in 2008, when Germany was accused of failing to protect Parmesan against imitators. The claim was rejected.

Newcastle Brown Ale Won protected status in 2000, but that lapsed when it relocated its brewery out of the city.

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