Honest, unfettered competition is the cornerstone of any free market economy, and this is certainly true in the United States. Both federal and state laws are crafted to promote and encourage fair competition and to allow businesses to succeed and grow by fulfilling unmet needs in the marketplace. There are also common laws that seek to ensure that business competition remains fair and honest.
One such type of common law is the business tort known as “unfair competition.” As its name implies, unfair competition is a business tort that provides civil relief when economic harm occurs to a business through a deceptive or wrongful business practice.
Unfair competition is a general tort that can take several forms. One type of unfair competition refers to those actions which are meant to confuse the consumer as to the source of the product. For example, such source confusion can result from misrepresentation – passing off a product as another’s – or from misappropriation – passing off another’s product as one’s own.
These deceptive practices are commonly accomplished by imitating or counterfeiting distinctive and recognizable peculiarities of a product. For instance, one may imitate shapes, colors, labels, wrappers, and general appearances of packaging in a way to mislead the general public or deceive unwary purchasers into purchasing an imitation product. Deceptive practices are not just limited to products either. Such unfair competition can also occur with store fronts, advertisements, or the wrongful imitation of the look and feel of retail establishments, restaurants, or other businesses that have created a marketed and recognizable brand.
An additional type of unfair competition encompasses all forms of unfair trade practices and processes used to sell products. Such unfair practices include false advertising, “bait and switch” selling tactics, unauthorized substitution of one brand of goods for another, theft of trade secrets, and breach of a restrictive employment covenant including covenants not to solicit, compete, or disclose. In these scenarios, the dishonest tactics confuse customers into making buying decisions based on untrue or improper information.
In light of these various forms of prohibited conduct, the essence of an unfair competition claim is that one business has engaged in conduct that is so unfair that it tends to hurt not just the competitor, but also the general public at large. After all, the free market depends on the free flow of information about products and services, and the public is harmed when it is misled about another business’s product in a way that interferes with the true understanding of a product or service. Such conduct is so improper that a court needs to stop it with injunctive relief or award damages to protect consumers in the commercial market.
If you or your business have suffered harm due to another’s unfair competition or if you have been wrongfully accused of harming another’s business, call the Virginia Unfair Competition Attorneys at MartinWren Law, P.C. at 434-817-3100 and ask for Robert E. Byrne, Jr. or John B. Simpson. Our unfair competition lawyers are well versed in the legal issues involved in unfair competition cases, and we are prepared to help you defend your rights.