Mars insists Hershey breaching intellectual property rights

Mars insists Hershey breaching intellectual property rights

Mars has filed a lawsuit accusing rival chocolate maker Hershey of misleading US consumers by selling "fake" confectionery under the Malteser brand.

According to documents filed with the US district court for the eastern district of Virginia, Mars argued that Hershey's Malteser brand is a confusingly similar trade mark to Mars' own Maltesers product.

"By its recent copying, Hershey has tricked customers in the United States into buying fake Malteser candy instead of real Mars' Maltesers candy," Mars said. "Hershey's conduct is irreparably injuring and hampering Mars' ability to sell Maltesers candy in the United States."

Hershey acquired the Malteser trademark in 1998 from Dutch company Leaf Corp. According to the lawsuit, Leaf registered the trademark nearly 30 years after Mars started selling Maltesers. Mars sued - and reached a settlement with - Leaf in 1994.

Mars suggested Hershey has since maintained the mark in order to squeeze out Maltesers and advance its Whoppers brand, which is also malted chocolate balls. Mars argues the move is in violation of the Lanham Act, the legislation for trademarks in the US.

Mars' complaint adds Hershey began copying the Maltesers packaging in 2010.

Mars alleges Hershey has infringed its common law trademark for Maltesers candy, as well as its trade dress for the red packaging and labelling of the product. The company is seeking a permanent injunction against Hershey's use of the "Malteser" mark, along with damages for lost profits.

Hershey refuted Mars' claims and a spokesperson for the firm insisted the case is "without merit".

"The Hershey Company has owned the Malteser trademark in the United States for more than 15 years. We intend to vigorously defend against this groundless litigation."

Hershey sells its Malteser product in the US through its online store, www.hersheysstore.com. The company declined to break out sales figures for the brand.

Mars did not immediately return request for further comment.