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O2 has lost its appeal to the European Court to prevent a competitor using bubbles to represent the company when comparing prices, in a ruling that will have implications beyond the mobile-phone industry.

The dispute goes back to 2004, when a TV advertisement from 3UK compared prices between the two operators, which is fine, but the advert opens with a black and white shot of falling bubbles – a reference to O2's branding.

Copying someone else's brand for a different product or service is not allowed, even if that brand is just some bubbles. Companies that don't defend their branding end up losing it when it becomes generic, but in this instance the bubbles are clearly referring to O2, so there's no attempt to mislead the viewer.

O2 argued that its brand was still being misused, and fought all the way to the European Court of Justice in an attempt to prevent anyone using its branding in future, an attempt which has now failed.

The ruling has implications on all adverts, any company will now be free to use their competition's branding when comparing products or prices.

The ruling has only just been announced, and O2 says it'll be "reviewing it in more detail", but it seems that anyone who wants to put a 20-foot column of blue-tinted water into their lobby may now do so, as long as they make it clear that O2 owns the associated brand and the column is only there for comparative purposes.®

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