L'Oreal found it was hardly worth it yesterday when it sued manufacturers who copied the smell of its luxury range of perfumes.

A judge at the High Court in London did find that there had been trademark violations over packaging.

But he ruled there was nothing wrong in saying a cheap copycat fragrance "smells like" a perfume from L'Oreal's high quality and costly range.

Mr Justice Lewison said this did not amount to deception or misrepresentation, and threw out L'Oreal's claims that its perfumes had become victims of "passing off".

The L'Oreal Group, which includes Lancome and Garnier, won a major ruling in February this year when a court in Paris ruled a perfume's smell could be protected by copyright laws.

It ordered Bellure NV, a Belgian corporation, to pay L'Oreal 1.48 million euros (£998,000) for manufacturing fragrances that were found to closely resemble many of those of L'Oreal.

L'Oreal then targeted Bellure's fragrances being sold in Britain, which it said were copies of their best-sellers, including Miracle, Tresor, and Anais Anais.

The French ruling put a block on Bellure's perfumes, which include Valeur, Pink Wonder and Nice Flower.

L'Oreal believed this would allow it to take action against all manufacturers who imitate its scents.

But yesterday Mr Justice Lewison, dismissing the passing off action, said the statement that Nice Flower "smells like" Anais Anais was true.

"It does not, in my judgment, amount to a deception or misrepresentation".

He said L'Oreal had won on trademark infringement over the Tresor packaging mark - infringed by the original version of the La Valeur box - and the Miracle bottle mark, by the original version of the Pink Wonder bottle.

But he said the passing off action had failed.

L'Oreal's lawyers described the case as a "landmark win" for trademark rights protection.

A spokesman said the judge had found there had been a deliberate intention to benefit from the advertising and promotion that had gone into building the Tresor and Miracle brands, and this amounted to taking "unfair advantage" of the trademarks.

The judge also found that the practice of selling the smell-alike products by reference to the brand names of the perfumes imitated on comparison lists was also infringing.

He ordered an injunction over the infringements, an inquiry into damages, and disclosure in respect of the trademark infringements, despite the fact that the passing off arguments did not succeed, said the spokesman.

Paul Rawlinson, a partner in solicitors Baker & McKenzie, said it was a significant judgment.

"This is recognition that English law is now prepared to give due weight to the investment that goes into building and protecting a brand, bringing us more in line with the rest of Europe."