Coca Cola

Coke v Pepsi

The war between Coke and Pepsi over the shape of a bottle is alive and well.

Last week the parties were in court fighting over discovery.

By the tie of the hearing what was actually in dispute was quite narrow. In the end, Dodds-Streeton J ruled that Coca Cola should be allowed to get discovery amongst other things from Schweppes, Pepsi’s bottler in Australia, relating to whether or not Schweppes had sought any indemnities from Pepsi, either before or after the proceedings commenced. Schweppes et al. conceded discovery relating to any request before proceedings commenced.

It was argued that such discovery was potentially relevant to the respondents’ state of mind on the basis of the Australian Woollen Mills‘ principle that a defendant who tries to pass off is giving a sort of expert evidence that deception or confusion can be expected.

Given the concession that discovery directed to requests before proceedings commenced and there was no suggestion that the further discovery was oppressive, Dodds-Streeton J considered that discovery of any requests made after proceedings were commenced was appropriate as:

in passing off and s 52 actions, the applicant’s reputation is to be assessed at the date of the conduct complained of. As Gummow J explained in Thai World Import & Export Co Ltd & Anor v Shuey Shing Pty Ltd & Ors (1989) 17 IPR 289 at 302, that principle reflects that the reputation is not to be taken to be eroded by infringing activities which occurred before proceedings are instituted.

Other cases appeared to consider that the relevant time in (what used to be called) s 52 actions was still unresolved, but in passing off the relevant time was when the respondent commenced its conduct. (See e.g. Playcorp v bodum [54] to [62]).

Dodds-Streeton J’s reason provide a fair bit more detail about the nature of Coca-Cola’s claims; not so much about Pepsi’s defence, although apparently it had been using its “new” bottle shape since 2007 (that of course would still be well within the 6 year limitation periods).

The orders may also provide you with a useful starting point for discovery requests:

Coca-Cola Company v Pepsico Inc [2011] FCA 1069

Coke, Pepsi and the shape of the bottle

Newspaper reports that Coca Cola has sued Pepsico and its Australian licensee, Schweppes, over the shape of the new Pepsi bottle.

The print edition had a photo, but not online. You can go down to your local 7 Eleven or compare for yourself:

Coke 'contour' and Pepsi's new bottle

The press report doesn’t say whether the action is over a registered “shape” trade mark, passing off/TPA or both. But, we know Coke has them:

TM 877676

So, if it goes to trial we may well find out what you can do with a shape trade mark.

The newspaper report quotes Matthew Hall asking who is going to buy a bottle of Pepsi in mistake for a Coke.

Fair question but, if there is a registered trade mark for the shape (without Coke plastered all over it, unlike e.g. TM 1057210) and the bottle itself is used as a trade mark, the presence of the Pepsi logo should be irrelevant.

Further, what role will “intention” play here? In particular, why did Pepsi change the shape of their bottle?

Pepsi apparently introduced the new bottle shape in May this year. Here’s an interesting mash-up which shows you the “old” bottle’s silhouette compared to the Coke bottle.

Here’s what the Full Court had to say in the All-fect case:

25 The confectionary has three features that are not descriptive of the goods. They are the silhouette, the fluting at the top and bottom, and the label band. It is not necessary for the respondent to adopt any of those features in order to inform consumers that its product is a cola flavoured sweet. It could do so by using the cola colour, the word COLA and the shape of an ordinary straight-walled bottle. The silhouette, fluting and band are striking features of the confectionary, and are apt to distinguish it from the goods of other traders. The primary function performed by these features is to distinguish the goods from others. That is to use those features as a mark. It is true, as the respondent said, that the fact that a feature is not descriptive of goods does not necessarily establish that it is used to distinguish or differentiate them. But in the present case we are compelled to the conclusion that the non-descriptive features have been put there to make the goods more arresting of appearance and more attractive, and thus to distinguish them from the goods of other traders.

While that was observed in the context of “contour” bottle shaped confectionery, things could get a bit sticky for Pepsi here.

As a side note: an interesting timeline comparing the Pepsi word and logo marks against the Coke history.

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