While I am pretty confident that Ritter Sport is not high on the list of chocolates that many ChocolateLife members eat on a regular basis, it turns out that recent legal actions being brought by the multinational company - and not against chocolate makers but against retailers - could have a profound affect on how chocolate is produced and marketed in Europe and beyond.
You see, Ritter appears to think it has a trademark on the square.
At least when it comes to chocolate packaging.
And they appear to believe that people walking into a store will be confused when they see brands as Akesson, Domori, and more, in square boxes.
I am fairly confident that anyone looking to buy Domori is not going to be confused into buying Ritter just because the bars are the same shape - just as I am confident that someone looking to purchase a Ritter Sport bar is not likely to be confused into buying Akesson - especially when they see the price difference.
Things might be different if Ritter were actually going after the chocolate makers. But they're not. They're going after retailers. In addition to fines (reportedly US$6,000 for a first "offense" and US$30,000 for repeat "offenders") there is also the theoretical possibility that Ritter could refuses to supply "repeat offender" retailers with Ritter product going forward.
Is it possible to trademark a shape as common as a square? Also, if my memory serves me correctly, all Ritter Sport bars are flow wrapped and I know Akesson and Domori come in boxes.
Will people really be confused?
While Ritter have claimed they are only interested in asserting their rights over their packaging in Germany they do sell worldwide so there is always the possibility that they could go after American companies (notably Tcho) for the same reason.
Bertil Akesson tells me that he and Domori (which is owned by Illy, a fairly large company) are working together to fight these cases.
How can you help? You can start by taking a poll that I've added to the Facebook page for TheChocolateLife.
You can vote directly by clicking on one of the radio buttons, but you can also leave a comment (and vote) by clicking on the title of the poll or by clicking here. (You have to be a Facebook member to vote.) And - while you're at it, why don't you "like" TheChocolateLife and add it to your Favorite pages?
We will keep you posted here of any updates as they are revealed to me.
Also, I am looking for someone fluent in German who is interested in doing some translation work. I don't know the exact language of the papers being served to the retailers and it's not possible to rely on machine translation for the nuances of such.
i also produce a bar that is square, and a round one and a rectangular one... do we all now have to be scared of any Corporate that has the money to patent anything? what if they patent as well the hazelnut in it or even better the word chocolate!
I don't buy Ritter and i hope that all the German friends stop doing it as well!
send me the papers, Clay, i'll have a look into it and let you know what does it say...
From my recollection they are flow wrapped in a unique resealable wrapper. The idea of trying to trademark square bars is outrageous. I think they would also have considerable difficulty in proving prior art. i.e. that they were the first people to produce square bars.
e.g. the "Ugg" word trademark in Australia was thrown out as the term ugg was in common Australian english use prior to the trademark "ugg" being sought.
Toytown Germany - Germany's English-speaking crowd wrote an article 2007 about Ritter Sport and mentioned this:
"The square shape is actually patented at the German Patent & Trademark Office, rather unusually in fact."
I bought my first Enric Rovira square bar nearly 15 years ago. Wrapped in a box Ritter Sport didn't care about before.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) offers IP-services. http://www.wipo.int/services/en/
I searched International Trademark Registration (Madrid System) and got 24 hits searching for "Mark" and Ritter Sport but not sure what to make of it. Maybe someone else can get find useful information (ROMARIN (International Trademark Information Database):
Information about RITTER SPORT CUBES trademark:
The key information in this page is the following as it refers to the mark:
Mark Drawing Code: Drawing/Design + Words
Design Search: Plain single line squares (Geometric figures and solids - Squares)
This particular trademark registration (which expires this month) is for a logotype, not for the box or packaging format.
From the Toytown site:
The square shape is actually patented at the German Patent & Trademark Office, rather unusually in fact.
Traditionally geometric shapes are excluded from such protection, unless a brand can prove that the buying public only associates their brand with that particular shape.
After tons of research and consumer tests showing customers square bars, with neutral packaging, no packaging, even with Milka lilac packaging with a cow on it, the public still saw square as equalling Ritter Sport.
That's the basis of the design patent. In US law such a determination would probably not stand as consumer perception is not the basis for patentability.
Wow that sounds weird. I heard they won a case against Caffarel, because the Caffarel wrapper was very similar to Ritter's. If you still need a translation, get in touch with me. Maybe I can help...
Rights to ALL square chocolate products, or only rights to the square in the size Ritter produces?