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'The chocolate war': Ten-year battle over square shape resolved

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Ritter Sport dates back to 1932

Ritter Sport dates back to 1932

Getty Images

Ritter Sport dates back to 1932

In Germany, the shape of chocolate matters. A 10-year legal battle over the right to sell square chocolate bars was finally resolved yesterday by the country's highest court.

The dispute pitted Ritter Sport, one of Germany's biggest chocolate makers, against its rival Milka, which was founded in Switzerland.

Ritter claimed it had trademarked its distinctive square chocolate bars and had exclusive rights to the shape. Milka argued the shape was too generic to trademark and gave its rival an unfair advantage over its competitors.

The case dragged on so long that it was dubbed "the chocolate war" by the German press.

But yesterday came the final ruling: the court upheld Ritter's claim to exclusive use of the square bar.

The company claims its co-founder, Clara Ritter, first came up with the idea of square chocolate bars in 1932. "Let's make a chocolate bar that fits in your jacket pocket, doesn't break, and weighs the same as an oblong bar," she is said to have told colleagues.

The company has long marketed its chocolate with the slogan: "Square, practical, good". But Milka came up with its own square bar in 2010, prompting a long court battle.

Though it was founded in Switzerland and still uses only Alpine milk, today Milka manufactures much of its chocolate across the border in Germany, and the two brands are ubiquitous on German supermarket shelves.

Ritter trademarked its square bars in the 1990s but Milka argued that it fell foul of regulations against trademarking shapes or designs that confer "essential value".

The two companies fought the case all the way to the Federal Court of Justice, Germany's highest court of appeal.

The judges ruled that the square shape did not confer any additional quality or value to the chocolate bars. They found that consumers saw the square shape purely as an indication the chocolate was from a brand they knew - that it essentially amounted to packaging.

"Today is an important day for us," Ritter Sport said. "For 50 years we have been the only chocolate manufacturer to focus on the square. That is why this decision is so important to us, because the square is of central importance for the Ritter Sport brand." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent