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Passing Off

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What is 'Passing off' law in the UK

A brief overview on passing off law in the UK.

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What is ‘passing off’?


Passing off law is a crucial element of protecting the look of businesses in the UK. This legal concept is used to prevent one business from misrepresenting its goods or services as those of another business. In essence, passing off is a type of unfair competition that can damage a business's goodwill and reputation. An example of passing off might be using a very similar business name or logo to a business with an already well known business name or logo. Further examples of passing off might include using another businesses photos, strap line or even packaging.

To prove passing off, there are three essential elements to the Court test for passing off: These are goodwill, misrepresentation, and damage. Goodwill is the positive reputation that a business has built over time, which can be established through factors such as quality, reputation, and customer service. Misrepresentation occurs when a business creates confusion among customers by misrepresenting its goods or services as those of another business which has goodwill. This can take the form of false or deceptive representation, such as using a similar brand name or get up to that of another business.

Damage refers to the harm caused to the business as a result of the misrepresentation, which can take the form of economic or reputational harm. So economic harm arises because business is diverted and reputational harm can arise if poor quality goods or services are provided and customers confuse the original business with the new one and go elsewhere as a result. Afterall a good reputation is difficult to obtain but easy to destroy.

Establishing goodwill is crucial in passing off cases. It is the foundation upon which a business's reputation and customer loyalty are built. Goodwill can be established through a range of factors, such as the length of time the business has been operating, the quality of its products or services, and positive customer feedback.

Misrepresentation is the crux of a passing off case, as it is the act that creates confusion among customers and damages the business's reputation. False or deceptive representation can take many forms, such as using a similar name or logo to that of another business or copying its advertising materials. Examples of misrepresentation in passing off cases include the case of Cadbury Schweppes v Pub Squash, in which Cadbury successfully sued a company for using similar packaging to its Schweppes brand. Case of passing off are regular causes of action in the World of FMCG where copied packaging and look al like products abound.

Damage is the final element to prove in a passing off case and refers to the harm caused to the business as a result of the misrepresentation. This can take the form of economic harm, such as loss of sales or profits, or reputational harm, such as damage to the business's reputation and brand image.

Defences to passing off include honest concurrent use delay in taking action and consent, among others. Honest concurrent use occurs when two businesses use similar marks in good faith, while delay refers to the unreasonably long delay by the claimant in bringing the passing off claim. Consent can be a defence if the business being accused of passing off can show that the other business consented to its use of similar marks.

Remedies for passing off include injunctions, damages, and account of profits. Injunctions can be used to prevent the offending business from continuing to use the similar marks, while damages and account of profits are used to compensate the business for the harm caused.

In conclusion, passing off law is essential in protecting businesses from unfair competition and the harm caused by misrepresentation. The future of passing off law in the UK is likely continue to evolve to keep pace with changes in the business world and emerging technologies, such as the growing use of social media and e-commerce. However, given the increasing complexity of trade and more global trade, passing off cases are increasing rapidly.

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The role of IP law in international business is critical for protecting a company's innovations, creations, and branding. By understanding and properly managing their IP rights, businesses can secure their competitive advantage and ensure that they benefit from their hard work and investment. When expanding into new markets, it is essential for businesses to conduct thorough research and take steps to protect their IP to avoid potential problems and ensure their long-term success.




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Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.

DISCLAIMER: The content within this post is for educational purposes only. Virtuoso Legal does not take any responsibility for those that use this information and waives any liability for any resulting effect on your personal or commercial circumstances. If you are experiencing an issue and need advice, we strongly encourage you to contact a solicitor to identify your best course of action.

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