A “hot-tempered” Intellectual Property (IP) dispute which emerged after boutique confectioner Hotel Chocolat accused supermarket chain Waitrose of ‘imitating’ one of its flagship products has promptly drawn to a close.
Back in May, the Hertfordshire-headquartered chocolatier claimed that Waitrose had infringed its iconic ‘chocolate slab’ design, which is registered EU-wide.
The complaint came after the popular supermarket began selling a new range of chocolate bars which arguably had a similar appearance to Hotel Chocolat’s signature ‘slabs’.
The new products, which were sold in ‘Waitrose’ packaging and priced significantly lower than the chocolatier’s luxury-oriented ‘slabs’, quickly attracted the attention of Hotel Chocolat – which promptly issued a legal threat.
At the time, a spokesperson on behalf of Waitrose insisted that the company was “confident” it had not infringed any of Hotel Chocolat’s designs, while Hotel Chocolat bosses said that the supermarket had “crossed the line.”
The dispute received further coverage when Hotel Chocolat offered a chocolate ‘amnesty’ in the form of a free exchange for all those who had bought a Waitrose chocolate bar and were disappointed with the quality. Hotel Chocolat used the ‘amnesty’ to highlight the slightly higher sugar content of the chocolate sold by Waitrose while bringing the dispute to wider public attention.
However, in recent days, it has emerged that Waitrose has backed down from the fight, after agreeing to stop making its rival chocolate bars altogether.
Commentators have said that the case, which saw Hotel Chocolat use its EU-wide registered design rights as leverage to promptly ward-off an imitator, is a testament to the importance of businesses having the foresight to register the shape and appearance of their unique products at the earliest possible opportunity.
Registering word marks, logos and designs can offer protection for the way in which consumers recognise your business, establishing recognisable usage of what makes your business unique. If you are considering protecting the IP in your brand, contact a member of our experienced Commercial law team.