Nestle bid to trademark Nespresso capsule fails

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Nespresso capsules (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images/File Photo)

The shape of Nespresso capsules cannot be protected by trademark law, Switzerland’s highest court determined Tuesday, ending a long-running battle for the Swiss food giant Nestle.

The Federal Supreme Court ruled that a shape cannot be registered as a trademark if it has to be used by a competitor wishing to market a similar product.

“We are surprised and disappointed by the decision of the Federal Supreme Court,” a Nespresso spokeswoman told AFP.

“However, we accept the ruling and will continue to concentrate on offering innovative, high-quality products to all our customers.”

Nestle, one of the world’s biggest food companies, is based in Vevey in Switzerland’s western Vaud canton.

In September 2011, Nestle and its Nespresso branch took legal action in Vaud to ban the sale of capsules produced by the Ethical Coffee company.

That firm – which went bankrupt in 2018 – had developed a capsule similar in shape to the Nespresso original and compatible with the brand’s machines.

Rather than being made from aluminium, its capsules were made from plant fibres and biodegradable starch. They were sold in France and Switzerland from the early 2010s.

The Vaud cantonal courts rejected the request for a ban and found the trademark issued by the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property to be invalid.

Swiss trademark law grants protection for 10 years, renewable indefinitely.

But Nestle, unhappy with the Vaud cantonal court’s decision, appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.

The top national court’s very detailed ruling contained technical drawings of real or imagined capsules, photos of competing capsules and also considerations on what makes for a quality cup of coffee.

The court found that the external dimensions of a Nespresso capsule, the angles of its conical shape, the top and the internal capacity had been developed to guarantee optimal functioning in the Nespresso coffee machine capsule compartment.

Insofar as competitors have to come to terms with these parameters, they do not have much room for manoeuvre, the court determined.

It emphasised that alternative capsules have a shape very similar to Nespresso ones, but found they differ slightly. It also found Nespresso capsules were no different in the minds of consumers.