October 3, 2018

IP Disputes

Weetabix has lost a trade mark infringement battle with Sanitarium at New Zealand’s High Court last week.

Sanitarium, a well-known cereal company based in New Zealand accused Weetabix of infringing its trade mark for Weet-Bix, which has been a well-recognised breakfast cereal in New Zealand for decades.

It was found that a British store owner importing Weetabix into New Zealand breached the Trade Marks Act and the store would need to cover up the Weetabix brand if it was going to sell the cereal in the future to not cause confusion.

This battle had been going on for 18 months after Sanitarium asked New Zealand Customs to put a hold on a Weetabix shipment into New Zealand last year. The CEO of Sanitarium pointed out that if he allowed a small importer of Weetabix to go uncontested, then this would leave the gates open for a larger competitor to enter the New Zealand market. Despite having tried to settle the dispute out of Court, the British store owner, Lisa Wilson did not give in.

In the end, the High Court Judge ruled that Weetabix had infringed Weet-bix’s trade mark without intention, in breach of the Trade Marks Act as the names are too similar. However, the Judge did state that there was no chance of customers being misled, given that the cereal, Weetabix was only on sale at a British speciality goods store. Going forward, the British store owner will now have to cover the Weetabix labels on all boxes of the British cereal when selling the cereal in her store. The Judge also ordered the destruction of 108 Weetabix boxes that were held by Customs.

Lisa Wilson is now asking customers on Facebook for ideas on what to write on the label over the Weetabix logo and comical phrases have been suggested including “Confuse a Brit” and “Blightybix”!

This case highlights the importance of trade mark protection around the world. It shows how far companies are prepared to fight to protect their brand and that it is the most powerful weapon in your brand protection.

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