FIGHT FOR TRADE DRESS RIGHTS

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Private label marketers had better hope they don't drive their brand-name competitors out of business. If they do, they might have trouble packaging their products.

More and more private label manufacturers are aping the shape, color and design of the leading brands' packages in what brand marketers say is an attempt to mislead shoppers.

Earlier this month, the PL forces won a victory when a federal appeals court in Washington reversed a lower court ruling against Venture Stores. The appeals court held that Venture store brand packages that "mimicked" Vaseline Intensive Care trade dress didn't violate copyright laws. The court said the prominent Venture logo on the similar product package made it unlikely most shoppers would confuse the two.

Brand marketers must continue to fight this one, in court if need be. They must protect their packaging from knockoffs obviously designed to equate private labels with the leaders. The appeals court reviewing Chesebrough-Pond's suit against Venture said it didn't find enough evidence of consumer confusion. Yet the intent to equate the two brands seems obvious.

As Sam's Club, President's Choice and others have demonstrated, store brands can make it on their own, with their own distinctive look. (Wonder what their reaction would be to a Sal's Club or a Resident's Choice popping up alongside their brands?)

Marketers can only watch when retailers gleefully compare national brand prices to store brands side by side in ads and on the shelves, and they must struggle to keep facings when private labels muscle into a category they originally created. But dressing up the little kid to look like daddy is going too far.

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