Top EU court pricks O2 bubbles challenge
A rival of British mobile phone operator O2 is free to use pictures of bubbles in advertisements -- as O2 does -- unless doing so confuses consumers, the European Union's top court said on Thursday.
O2, part of Spain's Telefonica, is long associated with bubbles in its advertising and challenged rival Hutchison's use of bubbles in an ad comparing the two services.
"O2 cannot rely on its trademark rights to prevent the use of a similar sign in a comparative advertisement for Hutchison 3G," the European Court of Justice ruled.
Even if such a sign was identical or similar, this was acceptable if no likelihood of confusion existed on the part of consumers, the court said in a statement.
The legal principles behind an ECJ ruling are applicable across the 27-country EU.
The bloc's rules allow comparative advertising as long as it does not mislead or confuse over trademarks.
O2 owns two British national trademarks which consist of a static picture of bubbles. Hutchison, which markets its services under the name "3", ran a campaign for its pay-as-you-go service using black-and-white bubble imagery.
O2 launched a legal action against Hutchison in the UK courts but lost. The company appealed and the Luxembourg court was asked to rule.
Hutchison's 3 said the ruling was pro-consumer and pro-competition.
"3 believes consumers should always be able to compare the offers available to make sure they can get the best deal," said 3's sales and marketing director Marc Allera.
"This ruling clears the way for us to put our deals up against the best our competitors can offer and let the consumer decide," Allera said in a statement.