Copycat Bread War - Commercial Court Decision on Packaging Get-Up

Author:Mr Alistair Payne
Profession:Matheson Ormsby Prentice

Similar packaging and the potential for customer confusion formed the crux of a recent Commercial Court battle between two of Ireland's most well-known bread producers, with McCambridge Limited v Joseph Brennan Bakeries1 highlighting the key tests which are applied in so-called 'copycat' cases.

The Plaintiff, McCambridge, has been dominant in the Irish whole-wheat brown bread market for the last 50 years or so, and its packaging has accordingly acquired a strong association in the minds of consumers with the McCambridge product. Brennans Bread, the Defendant, is one of Ireland's largest manufacturers of bread and its product has become synonymous with red lettering on a yellow background.

In early 2011, Brennans Bread introduced new packaging for its whole-wheat brown bread product, which the Plaintiff contended resembled its own packaging, such that customers would buy, in error, the Brennans Bread product instead of McCambridge's product. McCambridge had been using its distinctive clear packaging since 2008. A comparison of the two products is set out below:

Brennans Bread relied upon the prominent use of the yellow and red labelling on its packaging which it argued was firmly associated in the minds of consumers with Brennans Bread. McCambridge argued, however, that the overall appearance or "get-up" of the Brennans Bread product, particularly when placed beside the McCambridge product on a shop shelf, was so similar in overall appearance that purchasing errors would be made by consumers.

Mr Justice Peart was satisfied that there was no deliberate effort by Brennans Bread to deceive or confuse the public. However, he noted that intention is not necessary to commit the tort of passing-off. The Judge considered the relevant UK and Irish case law, and concluded that the test to be applied was that of:

"the reasonably prudent shopper, who is not in any...

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