The brand names and logos emblazoned on your wristwatch, the laptop on your desk, the foods stocked in your pantry and the car in your garage are more than just mere names. They are vital consumer educational tools. Brands enable consumers to instantly understand the origin, quality and attributes of a product and thus, inform their purchasing choices. For goods makers, brands provide comfort that their wares cannot be mistaken for, or exploited by, inferior products. In essence, brands are both protective and liberating.
Although brands help educate consumers, we are seeing worrying signs across the globe, of governments banning the use of brands and trademarks and curtailing intellectual property rights in an effort to direct consumer choices.
A clear example, is the policy on plain packaging of tobacco products. The WHO has requested governments around the world to follow the lead of Australia, and require that all legal tobacco products be stripped of their branding and sold in government-designed drab, generic packaging.
We understand governments have a responsibility to protect the health of their citizens and therefore, should regulate harmful products. However, there is no compelling evidence that restricting the use of brands will improve public health. On the contrary, it tends to increase illicit trade and moves consumers from legal and normally heavily regulated goods sectors to the black market where there are no taxes, no rules and no quality standards.
ASIPI has expressed concerns about packaging regimes that ban the use of existing brands and prevent the adoption of new ones. We believe that undermining branding and intellectual property in such a severe fashion, would confuse consumers by eliminating, or significantly reducing, their ability to differentiate among competing products in the marketplace. The standardized packaging of tobacco products also sets a dangerous precedent for other goods and services, including alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, snack foods, fast foods and even baby formula, a number of which are already being targeted with severe packaging restrictions, including tobacco style plain packaging. These industries not only provide products in demand by billions of consumers, but are also vital to many economies, creating billions of dollars of economic activity and millions of jobs worldwide.
ASIPI has requested governments not to introduce extreme measures, such as plain packaging, and pursue a variety of other proven-to-be effective solutions for achieving laudable public health goals.
Governments have a diverse set of tools to choose from if they wish to encourage consumers to move away from certain products, such as: public education campaigns, health warnings and increased taxation. All represent excellent choices and stand in stark contrast to attempting to educate consumers by depriving them of branded goods, the most basic educational tool of global commerce.
Our association wishes to call upon governments to understand that a balanced and properly functioning intellectual property system can protect consumer freedom, respect the rights of intellectual property holders, serve the public interest and continue to foster innovation and economic growth.
The protection of intellectual property does not impede the ability of governments to protect public health. Indeed, intellectual property protection can only help governments in this respect. Depriving consumers of information is an odd road to travel if the destination is to improve consumer awareness.