Wellington, New Zealand – One of New Zealand’s top judges has ordered a compromise in a David-and-Goliath trademark dispute that had fans of rival Kiwi and British cereals cursing into their breakfast bowl.
The legal wrangle pitted New Zealand food giant Sanitarium, which manufactures the popular Weet-Bix cereal, against specialty food store Little Bit of Britain, which imports a similar product called Weetabix.
Sanitarium took legal action against the Christchurch-based store, arguing the Weetabix product and branding were so close to its own that it could confuse the public.
As the case dragged on for more than a year, New Zealand customs stopped boxes of Weetabix at the border and expatriate Britons had to survive without their early morning staple.
Little Bit of Britain owner Lisa Wilson complained last year that she tried to switch her two-year-old son to another British cereal, Shredded Wheat, but he spat it out in disgust.
Now High Court Justice David Gendall has brought almost 50 years of legal experience to bear and ordered a compromise deal.
Gendall found Weetabix did infringe on Sanitarium’s trademark but that did not mean Little Bit of Britain had deliberately deceived or misled customers.
He said it could still be imported but only sold in the specialty store after the Weetabix branding had been covered with a sticker.
He also ordered 108 cases of Weetabix held by customs, which had long passed their use-by date, to be destroyed.
“This is a pragmatic solution,” he said in a 42-page ruling on the matter.
Wilson accepted the ruling and said she was looking forward to re-stocking her shelves.
“We’re happy we can still sell it, obviously a little bit disappointed we have to re-label it but it’s not the end of the world,” told news site stuff.co.nz.
Sanitarium general manager Rob Scoines said the company had successfully protected its trademark.
“The judgment enables us to protect our brand, which supports the employment of New Zealanders and contributes to the community,” he told the New Zealand Herald. /kga