Forthcoming European legislation designed to clamp down on underhand business practices will fail to stop copycat packaging and branding in the UK, it was claimed this week.

The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which comes into force in the UK in April next year, is designed to protect consumers from unfair practices, including companies deliberately promoting products almost identical to existing brands.

However, in its proposals for implementing the directive, the UK government has dropped a provision allowing for private prosecution by companies.

John Noble, director of the British Brands Group, said this would hinder efforts to clamp down on the practice. "By not planning to give companies the right to prosecute, the law is not going to be properly enforced. It is a major opportunity missed."

The UK government is consulting on the legislation until 21 August but intends for it to be enforced only by organisations such as the OFT and Trading Standards, which will respond to consumer complaints.

Twenty per cent of consumers had picked up the wrong product as a result of copycat packaging and the UK stood alone in the EU in not having effective means of tackling this unfair competition, Noble claimed.