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08.09.2012

A Bottle by Any Other Shape?

palliard_bollinger.jpgReady for the battle of the Champagne brands? Champagne house Bruno Palliard is considering legal action against Bollinger for allegedly copying the shape of their bottle.

Big brands tend to take such things very seriously, and everything from perfume bottles to soft drink bottles have been registered trademarks for years.

According to a Decanter.Com story (from which I've nicked the image to the right) the Palliard bottle shape is based on a 19th century bottle they found in their cellar. Well, unfortunately, Bollinger says the same thing. When you use a 150-year old bottle as the mold, or even the inspiration for your bottle, can you still trademark that shape?

The answer appears to be yes, just as a modern musician can copyright a performance of a piece of Mozart that has been in the public domain for more than 200 years.

Convincing a judge that another bottle looks similar enough to yours to cause confusion with consumers is another thing altogether, however, and it is this principle upon which any legal action will have to rest. Coke famously lost exactly such a case in Europe quite recently, which doesn't bode well for Palliard, though I must admit, the Bollinger bottle looks a bit closer to the Palliard bottle than the Pepsi did to the Coke.

How much do you pay attention to bottle shape? I can recall a few specific and distinctive bottle shapes that I associate with certain brands -- the extremely conical Krug Champagne bottle, the melted slump of the Pere Anselme Chateauneuf-du-Pape bottle -- but generally the shape of the bottle is not a part of what I use to identify a specific brand. I pay much more attention to the label design and the colors of the packaging. It must be said, however, that bottle shape seems to be a more common point of differentiation in Champagne than elsewhere, with brands such as Laurent Perrier, and even Dom Perignon having their own specific bottle shapes.

It's easy to see both sides of this conflict. On the one hand, as a producer, you want to do whatever you can to make your product unique and recognizable by consumers, and you have a right to be able to prevent your competitors from blatantly copying what you do in an attempt to steal your customers. On the other hand, there are only so many bottle shapes out there (leaving aside those that are dramatic departures from a basic format) and there is bound to be some similarity simply based on functional needs.

I'm looking forward to the detailed morphological analysis by EU judges, which I'm sure will prove riveting reading.... "The diameter of the neck when the curve of the bottle reaches two degrees from the vertical is 11 millimetres on this bottle but it is 9 millimetres on the other."

Read the full story.

Comments (4)

Anthony Rose wrote:
08.10.12 at 11:13 AM

Just as it was easy to confuse Yves St. Laurent's scent, Champagne, with the real thing, it must be equally simple to muddle up Bruno Paillard and Bollinger based on the shape of the bottle.

Mike Simon wrote:
08.10.12 at 2:52 PM

Thank you for posting this. Having had our designs that we have created for clients copied by others I know how serious this can be. I am not surprised that Palliard is ready to pop it's cork. Usually this will come down to legal action if someone has proof that their design was created first. If not then it becomes a game of who will be the first to flinch. Considering the loser my have to pull product (which we had forced another company to do in our legal action)the stakes are pretty high.

Jack wrote:
08.12.12 at 6:45 PM

Well one bottle says Bruno Palliard and the other says Bollinger. I guess if you are illiterate you may have a problem. And we all know how much wine the illiterati buy! I think they should lower the price by what calling off the lawsuit would save!

KC wrote:
08.13.12 at 5:22 PM

I can see it now...two screaming kids in the over-flowing shopping cart...my wife texting me to make sure I come home with the Palliard or else...I grab the bottle and check out. My wife never forgives me for bringing home Bollinger as I try and explain, "but the bottle shape is so similar!!"

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