Tag Archives: disputes


#SLABGATE – the dispute between Hotel Chocolat and Waitrose (or, why settling IP disputes in the media might not always go so well)

What’s #slabgate?

In case you haven’t seen the #slabgate IP dispute between Hotel Chocolat and Waitrose in the media:

Waitrose have been selling chocolate slab bars which Hotel Chocolat claim bear a resemblance to those produced by HC. Waitrose have recently agreed “to stop making the totally coincidentally very similar bars”[1]. HC have dubbed the whole issue #slabgate.

Waitrose agreeing to stop producing the bars is obviously a good outcome for HC. It also looks like a triumph for the idea of settling your IP disputes in the eye of the media.

I would caution taking this success too much to heart.

Here’s why:

  • Taking on people via the media is risky. You are relying on journalists and the public siding with you. They have no obligation to do so and it can backfire (think libel claims if you’re not careful about your own wording).
  • This outcome from this set of facts could unafirly give weight to the idea that “ideas” in themselves can be protected. Yes, HC have at least one European registered design[2], this one:slabgate

The design protection is granted for the whole image shown. This includes the shape of their “slab” inside packaging clearly marked with the Hotel Chocolat brand name and the sub brand “Caramarvellous”.

Quite honestly, I don’t think this was where the battle was won (particularly if this is the precise design right relied on).

  • There was no clear legal basis for the dispute. The result seems to be down to the fact that the two companies are very conscious of their PR and brand story. Put the same set of facts with two other companies and the outcome could have been far more brutal.
  • HC really capitalised on the PR which I would guess helped to get Waitrose to resolve this quickly. HC’s “amnesty” where customers could surrender their Waitrose bar in store in exchange for a “real” bar was a brave move.
  • Play this out as if the businesses involved were smaller, or less evenly matched, perhaps with a smaller budget and without the legal teams and PR teams talking to each other. The outcome for someone else is not guaranteed.

So yes, take heart, battles can be won even when the groundwork is shaky. But, think carefully before launching headlong into your own #slabgate campaign – it won’t necessarily be “…totally coincidentally very similar…” in outcome.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/25/hotel-chocolat-triumphs-in-chocolate-war-with-waitrose

[2] Design number 001438378-0011