Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witnesses (Questions 440 - 448)

TUESDAY 11 MAY 1999

MR R WESTON and MR A SERJEANT

  440. I am not sure I accept that we now have purely national markets. People travel immensely and presumably they expect a branded product to be the same. Frankly if I were buying Coca-Cola in Spain I would expect it to taste the same as Coca-Cola in England. I am just puzzled by this idea that you can register the shape of a bottle all round the world and yet the contents will be different. What is the point of registering the shape of a bottle.
  (Mr Serjeant) To indicate the origin of the product rather than its content. The trademark is an indication of origin.

  441. You have just said the origin is going to be different, have you not? If they are making something different in different places the origin is different in each place. I actually do find this quite difficult.
  (Mr Serjeant) We are assuming that the company which owns this bottle trademark is the same or part of the same international group.

  442. Should they be entitled to register this internationally if the contents vary materially?
  (Mr Serjeant) I think so.

  443. Is that not a deception of the public though?
  (Mr Serjeant) No. More than one product is used under, shall we say, a housemark in exactly the same way. It seems to me a fair right for a trademark owner to apply it to whatever goods he wants; obviously subject to other people's rights and that kind of thing.

Chairman

  444. Twelve months ago we had the World Cup, which is the biggest sporting event in the world. It attracts a group of established sponsors who pay vast sums of money to be associated with the sporting event. Coca-Cola for example was one, Budweiser was another. I would have thought that the public were entitled to a degree of certainty that what they are getting when they open a can in a country is going to be consistent with what they would have in the country whence they came because this is quite clear evidence of the international character of a large section of businesses' marketing. Your concern is quite clearly for the originator, for the producer, not for the consumer. Would you agree with that?
  (Mr Serjeant) Not entirely. The consumer has the benefit of knowing it is a Coca-Cola product and the implied guarantee that Coca-Cola would only sell a good product. One of the benefits of travelling as far as England or wherever is that you get a slightly different product and qualitywise and flavourwise you get the English version of the product.

  445. But if I walk down Victoria Street and go to Pre®t-a"-Manger—whether it is even French is probably a matter for some doubt—if we go to one of these sandwich bars and ask for a can of Coke is it not unreasonable to assume that it will be Coke with a Union Jack wrapped round it.
  (Mr Serjeant) Yes.
  (Mr Weston) No, that is a question of branding.

  446. It is a question of being in Britain and wanting to buy what you think is the British taste, which you assume is the one you would get anywhere else if you buy Coca-Cola. I am sorry we are making heavy weather of this but you introduced it and I have to say that I am a little surprised at the attitude that it does not really matter, you are just the consumer, you pay the money over and you get what Coca-Cola thinks is appropriate for the country in which you are located.
  (Mr Weston) These are the circumstances. You are quite right that the man in the street buying is entitled to full information and truthful statements. In the particular instance there you will find, if you buy a can of Coca-Cola from Tesco's or anywhere else like that, it will be bottled under the authority of Coca-Cola, Schweppes or whatever the information there is. If you go to Pre®t-a"-Manger, it will say Fabrique« en France. The information is there. It might not be in the trademark. The trademark is to give a constant source of origin and constant source of quality.

  447. You probably have to wear something stronger than a pair of Silhouette glasses to see the Fabrique« en France writing.
  (Mr Weston) No; more. If for example, let us use Coca-Cola, you say because it is a Coca-Cola mark—and we all know the drink and the public expect quality and uniform taste—they are going to have to come up with a formulation which is acceptable all the way round the world, people in the Arabic countries like it much sweeter and can say they are not going to buy that they are going to buy Pepsi Cola or the converse, there is an entitlement to adjust to maintain the quality of a product appropriate to the market.

  448. Where do you then stand when we get groups like the British Brands Group coming here and telling us that the end of western civilisation is nigh because someone comes in with a bottle of something or a can of something which is a rough approximation but is not exactly the same. Now we are finding that the recognised brands are not exactly the same when we go from one place to another even within the one country.
  (Mr Weston) This has always been true. I do not know whether they are still there but just across the road from the High Court, Fleet Court, there was Twinings. If you go there to buy your tea and ask them to make it up, they ask where you live, because they adjust their particular brand or the blend depending on the local water.

  Chairman: That is fine, but you are given the option and the choice. I get the impression that this is suck-it-and-see stuff. You can get what you like out of it basically. It is not a very consistent argument and it certainly would raise doubts in the mind of the Committee as to the integrity of the claims of some of the companies who have been before us already. Perhaps to that extent this morning and for other reasons as well we are very grateful for the evidence you have given us. Thank you very much. We shall look over the text of what we have been discussing this morning with interest. Thank you very much.


 
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