The government is reviewing whether to give brand owners new legal powers to crack down on “parasitic” lookalike products.
Currently, brand owners are unable to take legal action against copycats under consumer protection regulations. Only the OFT and Trading Standards can do so.
Responding to concerns from brand owners that these agencies are too overstretched to enforce the law, David Willetts MP revealed during the committee stage of the Intellectual Property Bill that the government would initiate a review.
“We are reviewing the consumer protection regulations to examine whether there is a need to give businesses a private right of action,” he said.
Campaigners for greater legal protection for brands welcomed the move. “This review is long overdue,” said British Brands Group director John Noble.
“The OFT and Trading Standards simply do not have the resources to enforce the consumer protection regulations. Giving civil rights to brand owners to enforce these regulations themselves will reduce confusion and allow shoppers to make more informed choices, all at no cost to the taxpayer.”
Noble said consumer protection regulations offered the best legal protection against copycats. Otherwise, brands had to rely on trademark protection or the common law of passing off - both more limited in scope, he said.
Some of the biggest names in fmcg called for a change in the law in a report into lookalikes published by the Intellectual Property Office last year.
GlaxoSmithKline said: “A good starting point would be to give brand owners the right to take direct action against parasitic copies under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive rather than having to rely on the overstretched resources of Trading Standards”.
Imperial Leather manufacturer PZ Cussons said: “Most of our principal products in the UK have attracted lookalikes: in the UK and Australia we have seen an increase in lookalike activity. In the past two years, we have had lookalike products from three of the big four.”
Diageo said it had to deal with “lookalike incidents” about half a dozen times a year, with 30%-50% of cases involving retailers, and Müller said it changed its packaging every two to three years in reaction to competitors using similar designs.
The government is expected to publish its review in the coming weeks. It will consider the costs and benefits of giving new legal powers to businesses and outline how they would work.