The retailer has agreed to stop producing the slabs, which feature a shape and flavours similar to those sold by Hotel Chocolat. Stock already in stores are to be sold instead of destroyed to avoid food waste.
The move followed accusations from Hotel Chocolat bosses that Waitrose had copied its products, after receiving word from Twitter users over the similarities in the chocolate slabs.
‘Position we’re happy with’
Chief executive Angus Thirwell told The Guardian: “We’ve been in discussions with Waitrose for a few days and managed to get to a position we’re happy with. They’ve agreed to stop making the totally coincidentally very similar bars.
“In our view, it’s a victorious solution to the whole thing. We asked them to do the right thing and to their credit we’ve got what we want.”
Thirwell reportedly invited Waitrose managing director Rob Collins for a cup of cocoa to discuss how to avoid similar disputes in the future.
The company went so far as to offer an amnesty to consumers who might have bought the Waitrose slabs, offering to trade the products for their Hotel Chocolat equivalents, free of charge. The returned bars would be then donated to food banks.
The chocolatier had considered pursuing legal action against the supermarket, as the signature wavy shape of its slabs were registered with the EU intellectual property office. Consumers could be confused because the products looked comparable, claimed Hotel Chocolat.
A Waitrose spokesman said: “While we are confident that we’ve not infringed any of Hotel Chocolat’s designs, it is not in our interest to enter into a protracted legal dispute with Hotel Chocolat, and so we have decided not to restock this product once the existing chocolate bars have sold.”
Legal comment, DWF
Ed Meikle, partner in intellectual property at law firm DWF, said the conflict between Hotel Chocolat and Waitrose was just the latest in a long line of similar disputes.
“It follows a similar case last year, when Poundland was forced to change the packaging and design of its look-a-like ‘Twin Peaks’ chocolate bar by the Swiss owners of Toblerone. What both of these cases demonstrate is the importance of companies registering their designs and trademarks,” said Meikle.
“Owners of registered intellectual property [IP] rights can then force copycats to not only withdraw their look-a-like products from the market, but also destroy them too."
Without registered IP rights, manufacturers will find it difficult, if not impossible to prevent copy cats of their products.
“It’s not yet clear how intellectual property laws will be affected by Brexit, but given the value and importance of IP rights, we have seen a distinct increase in the number of businesses registering their intellectual property both in the UK as well as in the EU, as businesses look to Brexit-proof their IP rights.”