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Design Rights - Supermarkets Battle Over 'Strikingly' Similar Gin Bottles

Fierce competition between retailers, particularly during the Christmas period, has a tendency to spill over into intellectual property disputes. Exactly that happened in a High Court case concerning design rights in festive bottles of gin.

A supermarket chain had registered design rights in gin bottles that featured internal LED lights and, when shaken, showers of golden flakes. Externally, they were decorated with an idyllic scene of deer standing amongst snow-laden trees. After a rival retailer began marketing similar products, the chain launched infringement proceedings.

Upholding the claim, the Court noted that the shape of the rival's bottles was either identical to those of the chain or so close that it was hard to see any real difference. The shape of their stoppers appeared identical. Both had an integrated light and falling snow effect, together with an external design featuring tree silhouettes.

The products were not identical – amongst other things, the rival's bottles were distinctly coloured and branded, their stoppers were darker in shade and their brighter and busier decoration did not feature animals. However, the Court found that those differences were of relatively minor detail.

When viewed cumulatively, the overall impression of the similarities between the products was striking. The Court concluded that the rival's marketing of the gin bottles complained of infringed four of the chain's registered design rights. Questions of remedy would be addressed at a further hearing, if not agreed.