Germany’s highest court decided a landmark case on Thursday by ruling golden chocolate bunnies are a protected trademark.
Lindt & Sprüngli, the Swiss chocolate-maker, has fought for years in the German courts to protect the distinctive gold-coloured wrappers of its "Golden Bunnies".
The rabbits are one of the highest-selling chocolates in Germany and the company has repeatedly taken rivals to court if they put anything similar on the market.
So when it lost a case against German confectioner Heilemann, Lindt took its case to the top. It petitioned the Federal Court, Germany’s highest, to make a ruling on whether the gold wrapping is a protected trademark.
“The goal was not to force another chocolate bunny manufacturer out of the market, but to defend against illegal imitators who take advantage of the good reputation of a famous product that has been built up over many years,” a spokesman for Lindt said after the ruling.
“There are plenty of ways to design chocolate bunnies that don’t infringe Lindt & Sprüngli’s rights.”
Lawyers for Lindt presented the results of a market study that showed almost 80 per cent of customers associated the gold colour with Lindt.
The argument failed to convince a lower court in Munich, which ruled gold is not a classic corporate colour for Lindt because most of the chocolate-maker’s products have different wrappers.
But the Federal Court disagreed, finding it was enough for every second person to associate the colour with the company.
The ruling does not mean an end to the legal battle, however. The Federal Court was only asked to rule on whether the golden bunnies are a protected trademark, and did not overturn the decision of the lower court over the specific dispute with Heilemann.
That will continue to be fought through the appeals process, where Lindt will have to convince the courts that Heilemann has infringed its now recognised trademark.
“In court, it's like being on the high seas, you get through or you go under,” said Karl Heinz Einhäuser, chairman of Heilemann’s parent company, Viba. “Of course, we want to get through.”
Earlier this year in the UK, Marks & Spencer announced it was taking Aldi to court in a bid to protect its famous Colin the Caterpillar cake.
The retailer accused the discount chain of riding on its reputational coat-tails with its Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake, which looks very similar.
M&S claimed it infringed its trademark and could lead shoppers to falsely believe the two products were sourced to the same standards.
Aldi said it had not stocked the cake since mid-February and declined to comment further.