December may have been the season of goodwill to all men, but the IP lawyers at Haribo were busy securing a ruling in Cologne in their favour against Lindt, which could prevent Lindt from distributing its seasonal gold-foil-wrapped chocolate teddy bears in the future. This is not mere humbuggery. Haribo feels strongly – and the courts agree – that Lindt’s cuddly confectionary would dilute Haribo's iconic trademark rights.
The issue? The similarity between Lindt's gold foil bear and Haribo's gold bear with the red bow around its neck.
It seems the trademark battles are heating up. Yesterday the Financial Times reported on a trademark infringement case Nestlé brought against Cadbury to defend the shape of its KitKat bars. Nestlé succeeded in fending off this latest challenge from Cadbury, which recently won an earlier bid against Nestlé to register the colour purple.
While these cases may dismay romantics – who wants to think of childhood favourite KitKat as “four trapezoidal bars aligned on a rectangular base” after all? - there are serious business issues underpinning these IP-related hostilities.
With the economic headwinds still buffeting the world’s economies, and investment in innovation tight, expect to see a heightened focus on on aggressive defense of IP rights as businesses look to make the most of the assets they have, especially assets such as trademarks that have legally protected status.
At Interbrand, we have always included Protection as one of the key factors of brand strength. But too often we see that IP protection is an after-thought dismissed as a legal inconvenience, rather than a strategic asset. Indeed, when we ask brand owners whether they are familiar with what they own, what they can protect and what the ramifications of infringing a third party’s pre-existing rights might be, the answers are not as immediately forthcoming as they should be.
So if 2013 is going to be an annus horribilis for trade mark cases, ask your legal team for some pre-emptive guidance. Forewarned could well be forearmed.
Fred Burt is the Director of European Clients at Interbrand London.