DUTCH COURT REBUFFS UNILEVER'S TRADEMARK SUIT: RAISIO/MCNEIL SEE CHALLENGE AS 1ST EU TEST OF BENECOL MARGARINE BRAND

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[helsinki] A Dutch court has rejected Unilever's attempt to block the use of the Benecol brand name and trademark in the Benelux countries by Finnish company Raisio and its U.S. partner, McNeil Consumer Products Corp.

McNeil, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, and Raisio are preparing for the launch of Benecol cholesterol-reducing margarine products. And they plan eventually to use the brand and trademark for an increasing number of health-conscious foods, including spreads and snacks.

Unilever argued that Benecol infringed on its Becel margarine trademark.

NO U.S. DISPUTE

There is no name dispute in the U.S., where McNeil will use the Benecol brand, but Unilever plans to introduce its spread under the Take Control name.

But the launches still have met with governmental wrangling, with McNeil engaged in a dispute with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration over whether it can label Benecol a food or a dietary supplement.

In the European suit, although the court rejected the trademark infringement charge, Unilever is claiming a "moral victory" in that Raisio agreed to change its packaging design. Unilever asserted the "B" of Benecol was too similar to that of its own Becel.

The Benecol name has been registered throughout the European Union without objection from Unilever. But Raisio now expects Unilever to use the lawsuit filed in Dutch courts as a test case for similar lawsuits in other EU countries.

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