Examination of witnesses (Questions 440
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
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.
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"-Mangerwhether it is even
French is probably a matter for some doubtif 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
(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 markand we all know the
drink and the public expect quality and uniform tastethey
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
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.