Stopping Pirates Before Breakfast

The recent dispute about Sanitarium Weet-Bix and British Weetabix has received a lot of media attention but one point that wasn’t widely covered is how the dispute made it to Court at all.

Sanitarium put itself in a strong position by taking a proactive approach to maintaining its New Zealand market by:

  • Protecting its trade marks through appropriate registration targeted to match its product range; and
  • Filing Notices with NZ Customs to have any potentially infringing shipments seized at the border.

When a shipment of British Weetabix was stopped at the border, the importing store had to decide whether to abandon the shipment for destruction or fight in Court for the right to keep it.

While Sanitarium did not succeed on all their legal arguments, the Court confirmed NZ Customs was entitled to detain the Weetabix product and it had to be destroyed.  (Future shipments are to be allowed, provided the “Weetabix” name is over-stickered before sale.)

This case demonstrates two points:

  • Registered trade marks are useful tools in dealing with legitimate traders who use similar branding; and
  • A Customs Notice can stop imported counterfeit or potentially infringing products ever making it on to the New Zealand market.

Our Intellectual Property law specialist Virginia Nichols can help you decide whether a Sanitarium-style protection strategy would provide a valuable commercial advantage for your business.