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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
EU legal setback for Philips
Remington rotary shaver
Dispute over shavers has wider implications for appliance makers
The European Union's highest court has dealt Dutch electronics giant Philips a blow in its long-running legal battle over electric shaver trademarks with US rival Remington.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Tuesday said that the shape of a product may not be eligible for a trademark if it is essential to the way the product works.

The ECJ's interpretation of the law, which came in response to a request from the UK Court of Appeal, is thought likely to favour Remington in its dispute with Philips.


Companies try to trademark shapes to ensure competitors can't sell products in something that look the same

Institute of Trademark Attorneys

The dispute traces its origins back to 1995, when Remington started selling a three-headed rotary razor similar in shape to a model already produced by Philips.

The Dutch electronics giant took legal action against Remington for breach of trademark.

Final decision awaited

The ECJ was asked by the UK courts to clarify whether or not functional product shapes could be trademarked under European Union law.

The crux of the ECJ's view is that allowing manufacturers to trademark shapes that are essential to the way their products work might unfairly give them exclusive rights to the underlying technology.

"The (EU trademark directive) ... requires that such a shape may be freely used by all," the court said in a statement.

The dispute between Philips and Remington will now be referred back to the UK Court of Appeal for a final decision.

The UK courts have already found in Remington's favour twice.

But the ECJ's interpretation could also be used by other companies to challenge trademarks on other technical products.

Protecting appearance

"This is a welcome clarification of the law and will help us when we give advice," said Ian Buchan, president of the Institute of Trademark Attorneys.

"Companies try to trademark shapes to ensure their competitors can't sell products in something that look the same.

"With the Coca-Cola bottle the shape is not functional, they are protecting the appearance.

"What Remington say in this case is that Philips have tried to monopolise the only practical way of making a razor with three floating heads."

'Unreasonable'

Remington argued in court that it was unreasonable to allow Philips to have exclusive rights to the product's optimal engineering design.

Remington became a household name in the UK during the 1970s thanks to a series of popular television adverts.

The adverts featured former Remington owner Victor Kiam saying that he liked Remington's shavers so much that he "bought the company".

See also:

07 Feb 02 | Business
16 Apr 02 | Business
04 Jun 02 | Business
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31 Jan 02 | Business
18 Jun 02 | Business
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