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Wrigley and Cadbury war over gum patent

By Catherine Boal , 08-Sep-2006

Leading gum manufacturer Wrigley has lost a court battle to halt Cadbury's sugarless gum operations in Australia.

The US chewing gum maker claimed that rival Cadbury had infringed a patent allowing for the manufacture of hard coated sugarless gum in the country and the use of a specific sweetener but Australia's Federal Court disagreed.

Wrigley, who own over a third of the world's chewing gum market, was seeking to prevent Cadbury using a now-common gum production method and sweetener patented by the company in 1987 to import and sell Trebor 24-7 gums in Australia.

Hard coated gum consists of an insoluble gum base and a water soluble portion (which later dissipates during chewing) mixed and coated with a syrup which dries to form a shell in a process known as 'panning'.

Traditionally sugar is used in the coating as it gives a smoother, crunchier texture as well as being a readily available commodity.

Since the 1980s however sugar has been rejected by consumers due to its associations with obesity and gum manufacturers have turned to less process-friendly sweeteners.

Wrigley claimed Cadbury made use of its gum production methods whereby the low-water centre is coated with a hard sweetener giving a crunchier shell than standard sugarless alternatives.

But the court found that in the years since the patent was granted, the method had become general knowledge in the Australian confectionery industry while the sweetener was now in common usage.

Judge Heerey said in delivering the judgment: "In 1987 Wrigley's dominant position in chewing gum manufacture in Australia might have presented formidable commercial barriers to a new entrant, but in terms of manufacturing know-how a person skilled in the manufacture of panned confectionery would understand the information contained in the Patent and be able to apply that information for the manufacture of chewing gum, albeit that some trial and error and workshop improvements would be involved."

Hard coated gum was first introduced into Australia by Wrigley in 1981 and since then has become the country's most popular gum type in comparison to the US where the stick form is preferred.

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