According to the Enterprise Act 2002, the Office of Fair Trading can investigate and refer markets to the Competition Commission (CC) for an investigation if they have concerns.
Peter Bennett, head of Roythornes’ food team, said research shows there is a rise in the popularity of own-brand food as 2011 saw more supermarket brands launched than any other, and data suggests 22% of shoppers intend to buy more supermarket labels in 2013.
Not a threat
But, Mark de Boevere, MD, Promatec Food Ventures, Netherlands, said copy-cat packaging isn’t a threat to the industry because it constantly drives manufacturers to come up with better designs.
His company specializes in equipment and technology for defrosting and thawing frozen fish and seafood, High Pressure Processing (HPP) of oysters, mussels, lobster and processed fish products and Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) technology for decontamination of shrimp.
“There are general rules to protect your design and a company needs to invest money to protect it,” he said.
“Everyone is entitled to establish a trademark and a patent. Once you have registered a product, you have a voice.
“If you don’t want to spend the money and protect your IP (intellectual property) everybody is allowed to copy it. So it is not a threat. We are driving each other to better packaging material and results.”
Kellogg's outwit copy-cats
As an example, Kellogg’s recently reformulated its Special K brand for Europe to outwit copycat private label manufacturers.
Louise Thompson-Davies, brand communications manager at Kellogg UK, told BakeryandSnacks.com for the last 10 years own label versions of branded products across supermarkets have grown and flourished.
“We don’t make cereal for anyone else so Special K has always had a unique, premium quality but many own brands have attempted to copy both the look, taste and packaging within IP limits,” she said.
While the trade secrets act doesn’t stop other manufacturers developing versions of the Kellogg product, she said it should work to provide extra privileges to protect the unique recipe.
Beating the competition
The CC is required by the Enterprise Act to decide if any feature or combination of features in a market prevents, restricts or distorts competition.
Roythornes’ Bennett added the damage that can be done is one of mistaken identity, it may affect sales as people confuse packaging and there is some potential an inferior product may taint the perception of its branded equivalent.
“There is however a much bigger threat facing producers of innovative new brands; delisting. We see retailers mimicking a successful idea, producing an own-brand equivalent and delisting the original to boost the sales of items which have higher mark-ups,” he said.
“This practice will reduce competition and choice for consumers, and the long-term risk is price increases from producers who have no opposition.”
De Boevere said take any packaging material to a lab and you can determine how it has been made. Change a few things and you have another material.
“Everything is relative to each other. It’s a free world and you are free to patent and protect it. If you don’t do that it can be copied. At the end of the day we are all driving each other to better world,” he added.
Roythornes top tips to protect your packaging;
1. Competition Commission; When it comes to the practice of replacing and delisting, the competition commission is the most relevant organisation and form of defence.
2. Protecting a new idea; Patents -are used to protect an invention if they are new, involve a new inventive step and are capable of being made or used in industry so long as the item is not an adaptation or already in the public domain.
3. Copyright -automatically applies in the first instant to work that is original and involved “independent creative effort.”
4. Protecting Packaging; Trademark - “Registering a trademark is a highly relevant form of protection for anyone who spends large amounts of money developing brands, and a trademark can consist of words, logos or a combination of both.”
5. Design -The appearance of a product can be protected by a registered or unregistered design right. The design must also be new and individual and needs to be registered in the UK within 12 months after it was first disclosed.
6. Registration; gives exclusive rights in the design for up to 25 years, however an unregistered design right does not protect the article only the design itself if it can be proven that it was copied intentionally.