Matthew Clark in coycat legal row

Cider maker HP Bulmer is considering taking legal action against rival Matthew Clark for copying the branding of its Strongbow cider range.

Matthew Clark this week relaunches Blackthorn cider in new packaging with what it calls a “distinctive and contemporary new look”. It will be backed by a 14m marketing budget and a 7m ad campaign through Grey.

But Bulmer marketing director Mark Doorbar says: “It has moved very close to replicating Strongbow, with the gold arrow chevron coming down from the T on a black background. It is not as clearly distinguished as it could be. We are reviewing the legal position.”

A spokesman for Matthew Clark denies the Blackthorn design copies Strongbow and says that it has always used black in its branding. “We would vigorously contest any of the suggestions being made,” he says.

But Doorbar, who leaves the company this week to become vice-president of new product development for Allied Domecq, says Bulmer has registered black and yellow as trademark colours. The company is considering whether the Blackthorn redesign may be a case of “passing off”, in which case legal action could be taken under the Trade Marks Act. Bulmer could ask an industry body such as the British Brands Group to intervene to resolve the dispute.

Strongbow and Blackthorn are the UK’s two leading cider brands, but their parent companies have both issued profit warnings after a price war and competition from alcopops. Both brands are being relaunched.

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