In a case brought before the Royal Courts in June, Oatly claimed that the name and branding of Glebe’s PureOaty milk alternative was too similar to its own product.
Ultimately, the judge found that there was no likelihood of confusion between the PureOaty name and look of the carton and any of the Oatly trade marks.
Commenting on the outcome, Phillip Rayner – managing director and owner of Glebe Farm, a finalist in the running for Plant-based Manufacturing Company of the Year at the 2021 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards – said: “We have had the threat of this court case – which has pitched our challenger brand against Oatly’s multinational business – looming over us for more than a year.
‘Determined to fight’
“We have always felt certain that we have done nothing wrong, and we were determined to fight Oatly’s claims that our brands were similar – something that is now proven to be wrong. You only need to look at the two products and packaging side by side to appreciate how different these brands are, and how unnecessary this legal action was.”
The judge also ruled against Oatly’s allegation that Glebe Farm intended to gain some unfair advantage and, having reviewed all the evidence and contemporaneous documents, was fully satisfied that there was no intention as attributed by Oatly.
Rayner continued: “It is enormously gratifying that the judge has ruled in our favour and to see that smaller independent companies can fight back and win.
‘Room in the category’
“There is room in a growing category for alternatives. We’d like to think growth opportunities come from positivity in broadening sector choice, rather than from trying to shut things down and limiting consumer options.”
Cameron Malone-Brown, trade mark specialist at European IP law firm Potter Clarkson, said the case should serve as a lesson for all manufacturers to avoid descriptive brands or be prepared to have an uphill battle in enforcing them against third parties.
“There are clear marketing advantages in adopting descriptive brands, particularly in fledging markets, however, this case highlights the potential limitations on enforcement down the line,” he added.
“It is a precarious line to walk, and today’s decision suggests that Oatly may not have got the balance between evocation and descriptiveness quite right.”