The high court judge’s decision follows a class action lawsuit filed by Australasian breakfast firm Sanitarium against A Little Bit of Britain in Christchurch.
Sanitarium – which produces rival brand Weet-Bix – alleged that importing Weetabix broke New Zealand copyright laws and shoppers could confuse the British cereal with its own trademarked product.
However, Gendall found there was little chance customers would be confused as Weetabix is only available from speciality stores selling British products. He also ruled that A Little Bit of Britain had not breached the country’s Fair Trading Act by importing the cereal.
He did find, though, that the shop had breached the Trade Marks Act by not covering the label.
He also ordered that a pallet holding 108 boxes of Weetabix – seized by customs last year after Sanitarium complained about trademark infringement – to be destroyed.
David and Goliath
Lisa Wilson, co-owner of A Little Bit of Britain, accused Sanitarium of bullying her small, family-run business.
“They are trying to force us to do what they want because they are a multimillion-dollar company,” she said.
However, she was pleased Weetabix would be back on the shelves, noting her store sold about seven boxes of the cereal a day.
Other British goods stores on the North Island have complied with Sanitarium’s demands to cover the Weetabix label.
“Sanitarium is pleased the court has reached a decision that resolves this trademark dispute in our favour,” said a Sanitarium spokesperson.
“This judgement enables us to protect our brand, which supports the employment of Kiwis and contributes to the New Zealand community.”