This case concerns ‘minute steaks’ supplied by Rami Levy – a supermarket chain in own-brand packaging that has some similarity to that of Baladi, a brand that had introduced the product to the frozen meat freezers in Israel. Baladi sued Rami Levy for passing off, copyright infringement and unjust enrichment and tried to obtain a temporary injunction against Rami Levy at what is the start of the Israel barbecue season.
The claims of passing off and copyright infringement were considered unlikely to prevail and thus not grounds for a temporary injunction. However, Judge Avrahami saw fit to grant a temporary injunction on the grounds of unjust enrichment. Rather than have Rami Levy’s product removed from the shelves and repackaged which could result in the meat being lost, she ruled that a sticker in a contrasting colour should be attached to the packages indicating that Maadaniya was Rami Levy’s own brand. Rami Levy was also advised to work towards introducing a more different package. The parties were invited to try to settle their differences without the court having to hear the case in its entirety.
Baladi makes meat products including minute steak which are thinly sliced steak that can be roasted in a frying pan in one minute. Baladi claims to have designed the packaging that they use for minute steaks.
Rami Levi is a public company that runs supermarkets across Israel. The company stocks known brands and also sells popular products packaged for them under their own label.
Rami Levi sells Baladi products. It also sells minute steaks under their only label “Rami Levi’s Sycamore Marketing Delicatessen”. Rami Levi’s own label minute steaks are packaged by TBone Veal.
In a preliminary ruling, Baladi claimed that minute steaks were not sold in supermarkets until they launched this product in November 2017 with a massive and expensive sales campaign. From the launch until 19 March 2018, the product sold well due to the marketing campaign. On 19 March 2018, suddenly, without notice, Rami Levi forbade Baladi to replenish supplies and blocked the product, and instead supplied minute steaks under their own label.
Baladi claims that the own-label brand is packaged in a copycat package of that of their product, and that this was a calculated, organized action of Rami Levi in bad faith, to ride on Baladi’s advertising campaign and product launch, benefiting from their investment. Baladi’s campaign has drawn customers to want to purchase their product. The customers go to the meat refrigerators and find the infringing product that is a copy of their package and are mislead into believing that they are purchasing Baladi’s product.
Baladi considers that the case is particularly serious since Rami Levi is a retailer that can block their product whilst offering the competing own-label product. This is particularly problematic since Rami Levi’s product launch was just before Pesach and close to Independence Day which is the start of the Israel barbecue season when sales go up significantly.
In light of the above, on 22 March 2018, Baladi sued for passing off, unfair trade practices, copyright infringement in the product package and unjust enrichment. They filed their case in the Tel Aviv and Jaffa District Court. Baladi requested a permanent injunction, compensation and production of sales data. For the purpose of assessing the court fees, Baladi assess the damages at 2,750,000 Shekels.
Baladi also requested a temporary injunction Rami Levi to prevent them using the product sold under their private label or at least to prevent them selling the product in the packaging used at the time of filing, and to cease from blocking Baladi’s products, and to enable their products to be sold on an equal basis with other frozen meat products. The Request was supported by an affidavit from Ms Irene Feldman, the VCFO of Baladi, and was filed as an ex-partes action for immediate attention since any delay will cause irreparable damage.
In response, Yossi Sabato, the VCEO of Rami Levy submitted an Affidavit claiming that Baladi was acting in extreme bad faith by not telling the court that they were conducting a parallel action against El Gaucho which is a label of TBone Veal in the Central District Court as 4347-01-18. In that instance, they made similar accusations which were rejected. This action, in a different court, against a different label, was a type of forum shopping that was indicative of bad faith and should be sufficient for the case to be thrown out. This was simply an attempt to corner the market and to prevent competition. The Ex-partes actions in both the El Gaucho case and in the present instance, are cynical exploitations of the legal system designed to get free publicity, and the plaintiff was suing for extreme damages without having first contacted the supermarket chain, which is itself inequitable behaviour for which the case should be thrown out.
With regards to the complaint itself, Rami Levy claims that Baladi is trying to obtain a monopoly on minute steaks, which is a term known in Israel and abroad and which they did not coin. Baladi also tried to obtain a trademark for this generic term. Minute steaks have been advertised in Israel in the past and are available in restaurants and from butchers, and even from supermarkets. Baladi has not been in the market long enough for minute steaks to be identified with them to the extent that they deserve a monopoly on the term (acquired distinctiveness), and a reputation that is protectable, and even Baladi does not claim to have rights to minute steaks but only to the sound of the name.
Rami Levy claims that their product package is completely different to Baladi’s, including writing and visual elements, and there is no likelihood of confusion. Baladi advertises their product with their trade-name Baladi clearly written thereon, and in the absence of this term, there is no likelihood of confusion. Rami Levy’s private label HaMaadaniya (literally the delicatessen) is well-known to Rami Levy’s customers as a low price brand, and there is no likelihood of confusion.
“Rami Levy” is written clearly on the front and back of the packaging, and is a super brand that does not need to ride on the reputation of Baladi or anyone else. The difference in price also prevents confusion, and all Rami Levy’s own branded products are clearly sold as such in their stores, and there are loads of examples of private labels being sold alongside branded goods and the public are not mislead in any way that they are purchasing something other than the own label.\
As to the issue of marketing Baladi’s products in Rami Levy’s stores, Rami Levy contends that they are under no obligation by general law (in rem) or by contract (in personam) with Baladi, to purchase any of Baladi’s products, including their meat products. Baladi’s goods are available in other chains. At present, Rami Levy stores DO stock Baladi’s minute steaks, but in view of the high price that Baladi dictates for their product, Rami Levy is under no obligation to replenish stocks of something much more expensive than their own label, which is against their policy.
In answer to Rami Levy’s response, Baladi reiterated that their issue is NOT the name ‘minute steak’, but the packaging and the product blocking. On 26 March 2018. a long hearing was held. There were many attempts to bring the parties into an understanding, and the affidavits were reviewed and the parties summarized their arguments. After the hearing the parties still refused to come to an understanding, and so there is no alternative but to reach a verdict in this instance.
Relevant Considerations Regarding Temporary Injunctions
It is known that the party requesting a temporary injunction has to convince the court, on the basis of apparently convincing evidence, that there is grounds for the complaint and the court then has to balance the ease of implementing the different actions, i.e. the damage to the complainant if a temporary restriction order is no issued, vs. the damage to defendant if a temporary restriction order is issued, but if it later transpires, should not have been. The court has to ascertain whether he temporary injunction was requested in good faith, and if the injunction is just and fitting in the circumstances and does not unduly damage the defendant – See Regulation 363 of the Civil Procedures Regulation 1984.
The main considerations for requesting a temporary injunction are the likelihood of prevailing and the balance of interests of the two parties, but where the court considers that the likelihood of prevailing is greater, they will be less concerned about the balance of interests, and the opposite is also true.
When deciding on a temporary injunction, the court also has Read the rest of this entry »