Double trouble for Wrigley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wrigley, European union, Trademark

Wm Wrigley, the US-based gum maker, is staring defeat in the face
in its bid to register its Doublemint trademark in the EU. A senior
legal advisor at the European Court of Justice yesterday said that
an earlier decision by a lower court to approve the name - which,
being descriptive, is not eligible for trademark protection - was
unsound. Although this is not a binding decision, the court is
likely to agree.

The continued attempts by US chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley to register its Doublemint brand in Europe have once again hit a snag after a European Court of Justice advocate said the name did not meet EU requirements.

Although the opinion given by Advocate General Francis Jacobs is not binding on the court, the final judgement more often than not reflects the original findings, which does not bode well for Wrigley's chances of success.

Wrigley has been involved in a lengthy battle with the EU's Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) which began as far back as 1996. The original attempt by the US group to register the trademark in Europe was scuppered by the OHIM on the grounds that Doublemint was a description, and EU rules state that descriptions cannot be used as trademarks.

Wrigley appealed against the decision in 1998, but a year later this attempt was also foiled when the Board of Appeal found that the term Doublemint was simply "descriptive of certain characteristics of the goods in question"​.

Undeterred, Wrigley took the case to the courts, arguing that the OHIM had been wrong when determining that the word Doublemint was only descriptive. It said that the word could also be interpreted as meaning 'containing twice as much mint' or 'made from two types of mint' - a claim which the lower Court of the First Instance backed, saying that the name Doublemint had an "ambiguous and suggestive meaning which is open to various interpretations"​ and that it could not be characterised as exclusively descriptive.

But that was not the end of the affair, and the case has now moved on to the higher authority, the European Court of Justice, which will have the final say on the matter later this year.

Having been bolstered by the lower court's decision, Wrigley's bid to finally register the Doublemint name has taken a blow with Advocate Jacob's opinion. He said that it did not matter if the name was ambiguous since it was still a description - thus making it ineligible for use as a trademark across the EU. "The more imaginative and subjective the relationship [between name and product], the more acceptable the term will be for registration,"​ Jacobs said.

This does not, however, prevent the brand from being registered by the national authorities in the EU, and 14 of the 15 Member States have already approved the use of the name - making a mockery of the Community legislation. Having EU-wide trademark protection makes it much easier for companies to defend the rights to their brand name in the trading bloc but is not required for companies to trade in individual countries there.

Wrigley​ will now have to wait for a final decision, but the implications of Jacob's opinion are widespread, and could affect many companies attempting to register their brand names.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging, Gum

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