July 29, 2010 / 3:50 PM / 9 years ago

Colgate sues Glaxo over toothpaste "nurdle"

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawsuit has been filed over a gob of toothpaste.

Escalating a battle between two of the world’s biggest toothpaste makers, Colgate-Palmolive Co has sued GlaxoSmithKline Plc, seeking a court order that its packaging for Colgate toothpaste does not infringe trademarks held by the maker of Aquafresh.

In a 76-page complaint filed against Glaxo in Manhattan federal court, Colgate said it recently launched in the United States a toothpaste whose packaging superimposes the words “Triple Action” — suggesting cavity protection, fresh breath and whiter teeth — on a blue, white and green “nurdle,” the wave-shaped toothpaste blob that sits on a toothbrush head.

But it said Glaxo, which uses the “Triple Protection” phrase on Aquafresh products, “created a reasonable apprehension” it might sue over the packaging by filing a trademark application for the nurdle design, regardless of color.

“This new application is a blatant shot across Colgate’s bow, as Glaxo did not file this application until after Glaxo had already complained about Colgate’s nurdle design,” Colgate lawyer Brendan O’Rourke of Proskauer Rose LLP wrote.

Colgate is “deeply concerned that Glaxo desires to stifle competition in the marketplace through overbroad assertions of trademark rights,” he added.

The complaint seeks a declaration that Colgate’s “Triple Action” phrase and three-stripe nurdle are not confusingly similar to Glaxo’s “Triple Protection” phrase and nurdle design in other colors. It also seeks to cancel Glaxo’s “Triple Protection” and nurdle trademark registrations.

A Glaxo spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

Colgate is based in New York. Glaxo is a British company that has U.S. offices in Philadelphia.

In morning trading, Colgate shares were down $6.75, or 8 percent, at $77.11, while Glaxo shares were down 29 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $35.15. Colgate separately on Thursday posted lower-than-expected second-quarter sales.

The case is Colgate-Palmolive Co v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-05728.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and John Wallace

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