The government has dealt a blow to brand owners who hoped it would provide them with greater protection against copycat packaging.
This week the department of Business, Innovation and Skills published the results of an 18-month review into the matter, in which it concluded that it should not amend a consumer protection measure “to facilitate business to business litigation”.
It is currently against the law to have packaging so similar that shoppers are confused or misled, but there has been little enforcement with only one legal case brought by Trading Standards – involving Müller yoghurt – in the past seven years.
There is an option under current rules for brand owners to be given enforcement powers against those using parasitic packaging – known as a civil injunctive power – but that option has never been exercised under UK laws.
The BIS review looked again at whether this should now be exercised and said it received a range of “polarised views”.
BIS said its evidence found some consumers deliberately bought copycat products, with a high proportion of these “happy with their purchase”, according to the consultation document.
Suppliers’ organisation the British Brands Group said this was a “deeply disappointing” decision for its members, who have been lobbying for greater enforcement.
“Misleading shoppers is simply wrong. Parasitic copies do this and it is illegal. Allowing brand owners to act would have given shoppers clearer choices and companies more confidence to invest in giving people even better, more innovative products,” said British Brands Group director John Noble. “As it is, the decision to do nothing is bad for shoppers, bad for brands, bad for companies of all sizes that play by the rules and bad for fair competition.”
The BIS report will now be sent to ministers who will have a final say on whether these new powers should be allowed.