InternationalUSRemember you can easily switch between MIP US and MIP International at any time

Brands under threat

James Nurton, Barcelona

Plain packaging laws for tobacco products could spread around the world, after a leaked report indicated the WTO has backed measures introduced five years ago in Australia

This article is brought to you by our Trademark Times 2017 sponsors:

Trademark Times Sponsor Logo

The full WTO decision is due to be published in July, after an interim report was circulated to the parties on May 2. Meanwhile, many other countries are already introducing plain packaging, the latest being the UK where it becomes mandatory this Sunday.

In 2015, INTA’s Board agreed a Resolution that plain packaging measures “should be rejected or repealed since they violate various international treaties and national laws on trademark protection”. Concerns have also been expressed that plain packs make counterfeiting easier, and that they could easily be extended to other sectors.

Plain packs 200For the second time, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) is exhibiting at the INTA Annual Meeting, with a circus-themed booth highlighting the impact of increased regulation of brands. In response to questions from Managing IP, the company said it remains “categorically opposed” to plain packaging: “Plain packaging, which is in effect a ban on branding, is like an unguided missile. It violates the very principle of intellectual property ownership and completely ignores the important role that brands play in guiding but also protecting consumers.”

It added that the WHO is also targeting other industries, including unhealthy diets and alcohol abuse: “Regulators are already copy-pasting tobacco-style regulations into other sectors without any thought as to how they might backfire. We see more and more proving points of the Slippery Slope – the domino effect of tobacco-style regulation being applied to other sectors – spreading globally. Some of them are presented at our stand.”

Plain Packaging worldwide

But public health campaigners reject these arguments. Matthew Rimmer, professor of IP and innovation law at Queensland University of Technology, said there is a long history of governments regulating labelling. “In my view, the slippery slope arguments (especially in Australia and New Zealand) were complicated and overstated. We haven’t seen plain packaging replicated in other fields of public health regulation in Australia. In respect of soft drink and junk food, the sugar tax seems to be an earlier public policy step.”

If the WTO does side with Australia, it will be the latest forum to find against the tobacco companies. The CJEU, UK and Australian courts have all rejected legal challenges. Rimmer believes the decision will lead more countries to introduce similar laws: “Countries like India, China, and Indonesia should consider the adoption of plain packaging of tobacco products given the tobacco epidemic in those countries.”


Article Comments

Great! You want to produce and market a product which kills people when used as directed, then you deserve to have your branding and promotional activities curtailed. Simple message to immoral corporations; stop making money from marketing highly addictive products which kill consumers! Alternatively, cover the health care costs and productivity losses caused by your unhealthy products.

Turk May 22, 2017

More from the Managing IP blog

null null null

null null null


September / October 2019

Should I stay or should I go? Private practice v in-house

In-house or private practice? It’s a question many lawyers and attorneys will probably ask themselves at some stage in their career, as Managing IP finds out

Most read articles