Magazine article Marketing

ANALYSIS: What Remington's Ruling Means for Brands - Last Week's European Court of Justice Ruling Throws New Light on Protecting Product Design

Magazine article Marketing

ANALYSIS: What Remington's Ruling Means for Brands - Last Week's European Court of Justice Ruling Throws New Light on Protecting Product Design

Article excerpt

Lawyers have finally come to a conclusion on how far any design or shape can be protected by law, following a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling last week.

The case, between rival razor manufacturers Philips and Remington, started in 1995 when Philips sued Remington in the UK courts for selling a copy-cat model of its treasured three-headed rotary razor, which it had registered as a trademark in the 60s.

Philips argued that its trademark should stop competitors launching a product using the three-headed design, claiming that unlike design registration and patenting, which have a limited time-span, the shape was part of the Philips branding.

But Remington's law firm, Laytons, had other ideas. Simon Chapman, a partner at Laytons, says: 'We advised Remington that in trying to register a trademark that improves the technical performance of the shaver, Philips was abusing the way in which a trademark should work. We argued that you cannot register this under trademark law.'

The ECJ agreed. The case was different from previous design squabbles such as the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle and the Jif Lemon container because while these did not make the product taste or perform better, the tri-headed razor made for a better shave.

The upshot is that manufacturers will be forced to put greater emphasis on improving their products. 'If no-one was allowed to compete with Philips' rotary shaver, what incentive would it have to make its shaver better still?' says Chapman.

He uses the example of how absurd it would have been to let the inventor of the wheel have the monopoly on the design - it would have meant a market today with only one car brand available, and undoubtedly a worse deal for consumers. …

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