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A brand-free zone

Guest contributor Annette Freeman writes:

When I visited Havana, Cuba back in the late 1990s, there were a lot of surprises. For a trade marks attorney, one of the most shocking was the brand-free atmosphere. Billboards displayed only public service announcements about saving water and so on, or the occasional “Vive la revolución!” Pharmacy shelves were lined with glass jars and plain white packages – not a brand to be seen. The only branded products I saw were Bacardi® rum, a local concoction called “Cuban Cola” (from Mexico), and a few venerable Cuban cigar brands.

Now, in Australia, cigarette producers and consumers are going to enter a similar Twilight Zone for trade marks, with Australia’s plain packaging legislation for tobacco products surviving a High Court challenge. This final route of appeal in the Australian legal system was always something of a last-ditch stand for the tobacco companies, as they had to reply on a constitutional argument – that the Australian government was depriving them of their property by banning use of their trademarks on the packs. Unsurprisingly, the Court held that no property was being taken, merely its use regulated.