Sanitarium, like any other trademark holder, has little choice but to protect its brand, says NZ Food and Grocery Council Chief Executive Katherine Rich.
“They’re in a difficult position because the product Weetabix, imported by online retailer A Little Bit of Britain, is clearly similar to Weet-Bix – there’s a one-letter difference.
“Sanitarium has held the rights to the Weet-Bix brand since 1928. It’s one of New Zealand’s strongest and most-loved brands that has been built up over nearly 90 years.
“The trademark rights around Sanitarium Weet-Bix and Marmite (the last time A Little Bit of Britain sought publicity over a similar challenge to Sanitarium) would be the most well-known, strongly protected in the New Zealand grocery sector.
“The protection of intellectual property through trademarks, patents, or other ways is extremely important to businesses, be they large or small.
“How would the complaining importer A Little Bit of Britain react if another New Zealander set up a similar online retail business and added just one letter calling it ‘A Tiny Bit of Britain’ or ‘A Little Bite of Britain’? I’m sure the company would be quick to complain that the names were too similar, confusing, and a breach of their rights.
“It’s a shame Sanitarium has had to go to the High Court, but it was left with no option. If they allow any other company to use their trademark or something like it then they could lose their rights to the Weet-Bix brand. It’s that simple.
“If companies do not take steps to protect their intellectual property in New Zealand then their marks can become generic and deregistered. Allowing regular use of their mark by others chips away at their rights, and in the long run, users can argue that a mark holder has given them away.
“A public scrap sure creates a lot of free publicity for A Little Bit of Britain, and on the surface looks like a David vs Goliath battle, but there’s more to it than that. According to reports, fair and reasonable options have already been presented e.g. over-stickering, which would allow the release of the product, and happy customers.”