Protected three-dimensional trademark – Illegal imitation juice bottle

A juice bottle bearing a strong resemblance to a more established model from another manufacturer shall no longer be stacked on supermarket shelves following a ruling of the Landgericht Hamburg – Hamburg’s regional court – from January 13, 2022 (case ref.: 312 O 294/21).

Signs that are capable of distinguishing goods or services from the products of other companies can be registered and protected as trademarks pursuant to Section 3 of the German Trademark Act (Markengesetz, MarkenG). The same goes for three-dimensional designs, including the shape of a product or its packaging. Restrictions apply, however, in the case of signs that consist exclusively of shapes or other characteristic features which are necessary to achieve a technical effect or which confer substantial value on the goods. We at the commercial law firm MTR Rechtsanwälte note that such circumstances constitute grounds for refusing trademark registration.

The case before the Landgericht Hamburg centered around the characteristic bottle design of one manufacturer that markets its juices in more than 80 countries worldwide. The bottle’s particular design, with its distinctive indentations and shape reminiscent of a pineapple, is protected by a number of three-dimensional trademarks. The proceedings were initiated by the manufacturers and trademark owners in opposition to a competitor’s imitation products. The former argued that the latter had largely adopted the design of the bottles with their cylindrical body and neck. Additionally, it was noted that both manufacturers’ bottles featured a wide screw cap made from plastic and the label on the neck of the bottle. The flavors on offer were also said to be identical.

The plaintiff was ultimately successful in claiming injunctive relief for infringement of its trademark rights. The Landgericht Hamburg ’s first response was to issue a temporary injunction on November 18, 2021 prohibiting the defendant from selling its juices with this design. The Court has since upheld its decision in a ruling from January 13, 2022.

The design of a bottle acquires greater competitive originality through use. The Landgericht Hamburg held that a product possesses competitive originality if the specific design or certain features are a clear indication of the products’ origin for consumers and the presentation is not technically necessary. This was the case here, according to the Court. The imitation product was therefore likely to mislead consumers as to its actual origin and hence was deemed to be unlawful. Accordingly, the plaintiff was entitled to injunctive relief, with the Court also finding that the relevant trademark rights had indeed been infringed.

Lawyers with experience in the field of trademark law can provide counsel.

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