The Fair Trading Act regulates the conduct of people who are engaged in trades.  It is primarily a consumer protection measure, but is also readily used by competitors engaged in intellectual property disputes, given the relatively broad wording of the operative provisions.  The Act applies to parties engaged “in trade”.  This clearly applies to companies, but can also cover individuals and the Crown depending on the particular activities.  

There are a series of sections which may be relevant to intellectual property disputes:

  1. Section 9 prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct in the course of trade.  This is the most general of the sections, and is accordingly the most commonly cited provision;
  2. Section 10 covers conduct in relation to goods specifically.  It provides that “no person shall, in trade, engage in conduct that is liable to mislead the public as to the nature, manufacturing process, characteristics, suitability for a purpose, or quantity of goods”;
  3. Section 11 is the counterpart to s10 but dealing with services.  It provides that “no person shall, in trade, engage in conduct that is liable to mislead the public as to the nature, characteristics, suitability for a purpose, or quantity of services”;
  4. Section 12(a) was inserted from June 2014, and prohibits a person from making unsubstantiated representations in the course of trade.  In practical terms, this may add little to sections 9 and 13 for the purposes of intellectual property disputes, but maybe useful where competitors complain about the content of the claims made in advertisements and promotional material.  Equally, however, our best practice has always been to ensure that material is available which can substantiate representations of that type, and this could simply be seen as making the requirements under s9 more explicit;
  5. Section 13 prohibits the making of false or misleading representations as to certain matters.   Subsection (e) in particular is commonly used as an alternative to a claim in passing off, as this prohibits false or misleading representations that goods or services have any “sponsorship, approval, endorsement, performance characteristics, accessories, uses, or benefits”.  Subsection 13(f)prohibits false or misleading representations that a person has any “sponsorship, approval, endorsement or affiliation)”.  In almost every case, conduct which amounts to passing off will also infringe s13; and
  6. Section 16 also creates a liability under the Fair Trading Act for certain conduct in relation to “trade marks” which uses the definition of “trade mark” from the Trade Marks Act 2002.  Section 16 is not limited to registered trade marks, and on its face would apply to a sign which meets the definition by being capable of being represented graphically and of distinguishing the goods or services of one person from those and another, even if the mark is not registerable for various reasons (e.g. similarity to another person’s mark).

Remedies available for a breach of the Act are set out in sections 41 to 43.   Broadly speaking, the Court can issue an injunction (interim or permanent) and/or make orders directing the payment of damages.

A claim for breach of the Fair Trading Act may be commenced in the High Court, District Court or Disputes Tribunal depending on the amounts sought in damages.