Imperial Tobacco challenges Australia plain packaging

CANBERRA Tue Dec 6, 2011 10:23am IST

A combination photo shows illustrations obtained by Reuters of some of the proposed models of cigarettes packs April 7, 2011.  REUTERS/Australian Government/Handout

A combination photo shows illustrations obtained by Reuters of some of the proposed models of cigarettes packs April 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Australian Government/Handout

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Imperial Tobacco launched a legal challenge in Australia's High Court on Tuesday against new laws forcing tobacco products to be sold in plain packaging from next year, becoming the third tobacco giant to do so.

The laws, past by parliament last month, are being watched closely by governments in Europe, Canada and New Zealand, who see Australia as a test case. They have angered tobacco firms who fear they may set a global precedent and infringe on trademark rights.

"The High Court of Australia will now determine claims which include the validity of these unprecedented laws. Unchallenged, the Australian government would otherwise be able to simply take the intellectual property of legal entities," Imperial Tobacco Australia General Manager Melvin Ruigrok said in a statement.

British American Tobacco launched a separate High Court challenge last week, while Philip Morris launched international action last month through its office in Hong Kong.

Philip Morris, the world's largest cigarette maker measured by sales, said its action could trigger compensation claims worth billions of dollars.

Under the law, cigarettes, pipe tobacco and cigars have to be sold in olive green packs free from branding, but carrying graphic health warnings, from December 2012.

Tobacco export countries including Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Ukraine have warned they may also challenge the laws under global trade rules.

Imperial Tobacco said it would test the validity of the laws using its well-known Peter Stuyvesant brand, which has been trade marked in Australia since 1958.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

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