Ritter Sport wins major court case with Milka over square bar shape
German chocolate brand Ritter Sport has won a long-running court case with the Milka brand over ownership of its distinctive square shape, with its original patents being upheld in a key legal case this week. Neill Barston reports.
The country’s Federal Court of Justice found in its favour, ruling in an exceptional instance that its design was seen by consumers as being part of its essential value, having been an integral part of its confectionery range since the early 1930s.
Milka, now owned by Mondelēz International, which introduced its own variant in 2010, had sought removal of patents that Ritter had reportedly filed in two motions in 1996 and 2001, effectively giving it a domestic monopoly on its distinctive shape.
Judges in a previous hearing had reportedly backed Milka and trademarks owned by Ritter were removed, which was subsequently overturned, leading to a final, deciding case held in Germany this week.
As a result of the final settlement, Ritter will now be the only permitted major brand bars in square formats marketed within Germany.
The company has enjoyed a strong history over the past century. Founded in 1912 by Alfred and Clara Ritter, the business steadily grew from a chocolate and confectionery factory in the Bad Cannstatt district of Stuttgart, before moving to Waldenbuch as the business expanded.
It was in its new home that according to the company’s history books that Clara Ritter first proposed the square chocolate bar “that fits in everyone’s jacket pocket without breaking’ – which set in motion its distinctive core brand.
By 1960, the company had opted to move away from other products in its range including long bars and hollow figures, in favour of its square design, that set it apart from other confectionery manufacturers. In the mid 1970s, the firm instituted a ‘snap open’ concept for its confectionery, which again moved its development forward.
As the company expanded further, in 1990, it founded its agroforestry project, Cacaonica in Nicaragua, making it among the first companies in the sector to place a core business model based around industry sustainability.
Confectionery Production approached Ritter Sport for further comment on the case, but in an initial statement. Thomas Seeger, head of legal affairs for the business, said that as a small, family-owned company, the square shape was critical to its commercial designs.
He commented: “We expressly welcome the final decision by the Federal Court of Justice. Since the 1970s, Ritter Sport has been the only chocolate manufacturer to concentrate its range exclusively on the square. As indicated by surveys over many years, the vast majority of consumers in Germany associate the Ritter Sport brand with chocolate wrapped as a square – even if the bar has a white wrapper without any logo or lettering.
“We are delighted that our brand, which we have been cultivating for decades, will continue to be protected in the future. For us as a comparably small family-owned company, the square shape of our packaging carries as much weight as the individual purple colour for our competitor, which is also protected by trademark.”