By Trevor Little
April 16 2012
The UK government has launched a consultation on whether tobacco products should be sold in plain packaging. In addition to the potential impact on smoking habits, the consequence for trademark rights is now being considered.
The UK consultation follows Australia’s recent adoption of plain packaging legislation, with today’s document suggesting what requirements for standardised packaging could consist of, including no branding, a uniform colour, and a standard font and text for any writing on the pack.
In Australia, the implications for trademarks took centre stage in the debate, with MARQUES warning of a domino effect on other industries’ marks if the concept of plain packaging is accepted. The Australian legislation is currently the subject of a complaint at the World Trade Organisation, and the UK’s proposals can expect a similarly combative response.
Reacting to today’s announcement, the US Chamber of Commerce, the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Council for International Business and the National Foreign Trade Council have joined forces to “make clear our serious concerns with the prospect that the UK government may mandate the destruction of an industry's legitimate trademark protection and branding - rights long protected under law and treaties... As leading representatives of business, we rely on the rules-based international trade framework and its supporters to sustain economic growth, employment, innovation and prosperity. We will work hard to encourage governments, including the UK government, to reflect in what they do the importance of the rules based international system".
Ruth Orchard, director general of The Anti-Counterfeiting Group, has also warned of a potential boost to the illicit market: "Plain packaging will be welcomed by counterfeiters. It will make their job much simpler and make it harder for consumers to spot fakes. It creates a trading environment where all packaging will look essentially the same and where the standard designs will be easy to replicate illegally. Such effects need to be integrated into government thinking."
The consultation is open until July 10 and the debate will only intensify over the coming months. And if the Australian example is followed, the passing of legislation may not be the end of the matter.
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