When Cadbury battled Nestlé for the color purple

Two of India’s cutest multinational brands have already fought in international courts over the color purple. At the heart of the dispute between chocolate giants Cadbury and Nestlé was the ubiquitous packaging used by Cadbury, in which Pantone 2685C, a shade of purple it began using in 1995, was a central figure.

All went well until 2004 when Cadbury decided to trademark this particular tint on the basis of ‘acquired distinctiveness’ and filed an application to do so with the UK Trademark Office. Its ultimate goal was to extend the distinctive packaging to other products such as “chocolate confectionery, chocolate assortments, cocoa-based beverages, cocoa-based beverage mixes, chocolate-based beverages, preparations for chocolate-based drinks, chocolate cakes”, etc.

Predictably, Nestlé challenged the claim on various grounds, including bad faith and lack of distinctiveness. Cadbury’s argument was that it had been using color in its packaging ever since it decided to honor Queen Victoria’s choice in 1914.

The case dragged on for the next seven years until in 2011 a UK Intellectual Property Office hearing ruled that, since the color was closely associated with Cadbury milk chocolates, the company had the right to register a trademark for the same. Nestlé took the case to a UK High Court, but here too it was dismissed, although in a concession to Nestlé the court ruled that the judgment would not apply to dark or white chocolates from Cadbury.

The milk chocolate that defines Cadbury, the popular Cadbury Dairy Milk, was launched in 1905, although its founder John Cadbury started with a solid chocolate bar in Birmingham as early as 1849. Given its lineage, the UK-based company United, now owned by Mondelez International, might have agreed with the decision, but rival Nestlé had none of it. The Swiss company challenged the judgment and in October 2013 a UK appeals court ruled in its favor and Cadbury lost its trademark purple colour. The following year, its right to appeal was denied by the courts, and with that, Pantone 2685C was no longer the exclusive preserve of Cadbury.

It was not the first such setback for Cadbury. In April 2006, three years after Cadbury took legal action against Australian confectioner Darrell Lea for his use of various shades of purple in its store signage, uniforms and product packaging, the Federal Court of Australia ruled ruled that the company did not “own” the color purple. .

The deal had little bearing on the Indian market with Cadbury, which first moved into the country in 1948, continuing to dominate with a 55% market share compared to Nestlé’s 15. Since then, Cadbury has further strengthened its position in the $1.9 billion Indian chocolate market from 2020. Now operating as Mondelez India, it holds 65% of the chocolate confectionery segment, followed by Nestlé at around 20%.

—Sundeep Khanna is a former editor and co-author of the recent Azim Premji: The Man Beyond Billions. Views are personal

(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)

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