Last week (12 April 2019), the UK Intellectual Property Office delivered a mixed judgement following the Oppositions brought by Nestlé against three of Cadbury’s Trade Marks. The three Trade Marks in question were all for the colour purple, in shade Pantone 2685C, and the Marks all designated goods such as chocolate and drinking chocolate in Class 30.
The Marks in issue were the following:
- UKTM No. 3019361 – Rejected
- UKTM No. 3025822 – Rejected
- UKTM No. 3019362 – Accepted
Pantone 2685C, as filed in the three Applications.
1.) UKTM No. 3019361
This Application was accompanied with the following description:
In its judgement, the IPO agreed with Nestlé’s arguments that the above description created substantial ambiguity, stating that it was potentially wide enough to cover the colour purple applied to packaging, ‘where other colours could also be present’, and that such colours had not been described or at all displayed in the Application. For this reason, the Mark was rejected.
2.) UKTM No. 3025822
This Application had the following description:
The IPO considered this representation of this Mark to be arguably even more imprecise, as Cadbury did not explain how the colour sign was to be used at all. Whether the Mark was to be used on packaging, advertisement materials, or the products themselves, was undefined and indeterminate. The ambiguity was also said to have the ‘potential for the mark to cover at least two different signs’, i.e. purple chocolate, as well as purple packaging for the chocolate products. This Mark was therefore also rejected.
3.) UKTM No. 3019362
This Application was filed with the following description:
This description was thought to be comparatively more precise, and sufficient in defining the scope of Application. Nestlé had argued that the purple colour would appear darker, depending on the medium of display, and also, that the description was ambiguous because the Mark would look different, depending on the shape of the packaging of the goods. This was rejected by the IPO. Instead, the IPO confirmed that the use of an internationally recognised colour code, which is both precise and durable, is wholly sufficient in satisfying the Trade Mark criteria of being ‘clear and precise’, by identifying a specific colour. The description filed was also held to be equally ‘clear and precise’.
The UKIPO decision adds to the recent defeat of Cadbury in the Court of Appeals in December last year, where the court dismissed Cadbury’s efforts to alter its purple Trade Mark.
In that case, Cadbury was seeking to amend the Registration of one of its earliest Trade Marks for their signature colour by shortening/narrowing its description. The amendment was pursued as a response to the outcome of another Opposition action, again, brought against them by their competitor, Nestlé. In that particular Opposition, the court rejected one of the purple Trade Marks owned by Cadbury, on grounds that the description filed was insufficiently precise.
Combined, the decision of December and the more recent decision last week has further opened opportunities for rivals to start using the signature colour for their own chocolates, or for knock-off brands to pass off their products as Cadbury’s. Either way, the colour protection wars have now clearly become a reality in the context of Trade Marks, not least applicable in the chocolate manufacturing industry. The fashion industry, for example, has recently seen a battle between Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Louboutin over Louboutin’s Trade Mark red sole, and we have also seen a battle across sectors, for the colour orange, between mobile network operator Orange, and airline company easyJet.
Although Cadbury still has existing valid Trade Marks in its signature colour, the message to take away from the recent decisions is clear – insofar as colour Marks are concerned, Applicant’s should always seek to file narrow descriptions, with a precise and defined scope, and irrespective of whether an Application relates to a single colour, or a colour combination. Broadly speaking, where colour Marks are concerned, it seems wise to steer clear of any language which might leave room for flexibility, interpretation and/or ambiguity, and instead, opt for detailed language, which serves to systematically describe the exact distribution of colour/s, in relation to the medium where it is intended to be used.