Germany’s Ritter Sport can keep its monopoly on square chocolate.
THE country’s Federal Court of Justice ruled Thursday that Alfred Ritter, a maker of square-packaged chocolate in a variety of flavours and multi-coloured wrappers, could continue to dominate the equal-sided chocolate market despite a challenge by rival Milka.
The trademark row, which ends after a decade of wrangling in German courts, marked a threat to Ritter Sport, whose corporate motto is ‘quality in a square.’ Milka, whose chocolate traditionally comes in rectangular form and purple packaging, had sought the cancellation of the shape patent.
“The requests for cancellation are not justified,” Germany’s highest court in Karlsruhe said on Thursday after deciding that Ritter could keep its two trademarks dating back to 1996 and 2001. In short, the court believes a consumer choosing Ritter over the competition would not be doing so based mainly on the shape of the bar.
“The consumer sees the packaging as an indication of the origin of the chocolate and associates it with quality expectations,” the court said. “However, the shape has no artistic value and does not lead to price differences.”
Thomas Seeger, head of legal affairs at Alfred Ritter, said in a statement: “For us as a comparably small family-owned company, the square shape of our packaging carries as much weight as the individual purple colour for our competitor, which is also protected by trademark.”
The company added that an internal survey indicated that “the vast majority of consumers in Germany associate the Ritter Sport brand with chocolate wrapped as a square – even if the bar has a white wrapper without any logo or lettering.”
Heike Hauerken, a senior corporate and government affairs manager at Mondelez, Milka’s owner, said: “A square is a universal and common shape that is used by manufacturers as a packaging form for diverse food and confectionery goods that are available in the market. We therefore believed it is important to obtain legal certainty as to whether companies are allowed to market and sell square products in the market,” adding that today’s judgement creates that clarity.
The Ritter rumble isn’t Milka’s first chocolate standoff. It previously fought KitKat, made by Swiss food conglomerate Nestlé, over the four-fingered template and won.
I have to say, I don’t really care what shape my chocolate bar is, do you?