A striking feature of many newspaper articles relating to legal decisions is that there’s often very little discussion concerning the rationale behind the decision. If you’ve ever had cause to read a full High Court judgment, you’ll likely have sympathy for any hard-pressed journalist simply scrolling down to the final comments. However, this economy can push the reader to think that one party’s “got away with it” or that a decision is somehow unfair. Now, some newspaper articles will have us believe that Aldi have “got away with it again” following their successful defence of Thatchers’ claim that Aldi's TAURUS Cloudy Lemon cider infringed their trade mark and get-up.
Is this really a huge setback for food and beverage companies who may have hoped for a valuable precedent in deterring copycat competitors? Well, no, not really. If you take the time to analyse the rationale behind this 67 page decision, you will see that Aldi most certainly don’t have some magical pass giving them free rein to confuse and mislead consumers. The decision is based on the evidence – including a painstaking analysis of the average consumer for these products, marketing practices, and Aldi’s sales figures. Ultimately, and squarely on the evidence, the High Court decided it's highly unlikely that anyone would confuse Aldi's TAURUS product with Thatchers or believe it to be officially associated or economically linked to Thatchers.
The High Court found that Thatchers does have a reputation identified by the get-up, and agreed that consumers would likely think of Thatchers when confronted with the Aldi product. This was a success for Thatchers, and with the right supporting evidence they may have succeeded in their action.
Rights owners like Thatchers can’t simply rely on arguing that another product is “inspired by" their product. The specific individual rights need to be identified, valid and enforceable. Success will therefore depend on whether these companies have more appropriately registered trade marks or designs and of course whether they own acquired unregistered trade mark rights in the get-up of the packaging itself. So, Aldi haven’t “got away with it”, on the evidence, they sailed just far enough away from the wind. I'll leave you to read the full Judgment to understand why!
Thatchers Cider Company Limited v Aldi Stores Limited  EWHC 88 (IPEC)