Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Case of the Chocolate Bunny

Those six words sound like the title of an episode of The People's Court. But this is a high-profile case, as reported in today's Wall Street Journal:

This morning in Luxembourg, five crimson-robed and white-scarved judges of the European Union's highest court will issue a ruling on this most gnawing question: Can you trademark a chocolate bunny? Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Spr√ľngli AG of Switzerland certainly hopes so.

Lindt got a European trademark in 2001 on its marquee Easter treat, a gold-foil-wrapped chocolate bunny, squatting stolidly on its haunches, ears alert, a jingly little bell affixed to its neck with a bow-tied red ribbon. The bunny has been a big nuisance since.

Lindt has hunted knockoff rabbits in Britain, Austria, Germany and Poland. To shore up its franchise, it has sought -- unsuccessfully -- an additional trademark for the "naked" bunny shape without foil. For good measure, it tried to trademark a chocolate reindeer that looks an awful lot like a bunny.

. . . Like Americans, Europeans allow logos, graphics and words to be trademarked. In theory, both also permit shapes. But courts have been hesitant to hop into that minefield.

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