EU Blocks 'Brexit Beer' Trademark, First As 'Offensive', Then As Non-Distinctive

from the any-means-possible dept

Brexit, as most of you will know, is still a full on mess. And, frankly, it's been a mess since the historic vote was taken and the British public rode a wave of nationalism draped in false promises to decide to economically scuttle their own country. In the nearly three years since, the British government has managed to put on an impressive performance piece on dysfunctional government, managing to refuse to agree on how to actually implement the will of their own people.

At the same time that all of this has been going on, some opportunistic folks have been attempting to cash in on the Brexit story by trademarking the term, without even having a plan for how to use those marks. As we've pointed out in past posts, this sort of attempt to cash in is fully annoying, but not illegal. Which makes it sort of strange to watch the EU throw everything against the wall just to see what's sticky enough to deny a UK brewer his trademark for Brexit Beer.

Upon first reviewing the application, the EU's IPO denied it on the insane grounds that the term "Brexit" is offensive.

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (Euipo) denied a trademark for a ‘Brexit’ energy beverage back in 2016 after ruling the term was too ‘offensive’ to put on a can. An official had felt ‘citizens across the EU would be deeply offended’ and it would ‘undermine the weight of an expression denoting a seminal moment in the history of the European Union.’

The two men that owned the brewery were understandably confused when told they couldn't have a trademark because a term thrown around their own country with reckless abandon was too offensive. It sure looked for all the world like the EU simply didn't want to put its stamp of approval on the term "Brexit" due to its own political distaste for it. That sure makes more sense than the odd claim that 'Brexit' is going to offend people if given trademark status.

So the brewery appealed... and was denied again. Only this time, the excuse was that the term "Brexit" was not distinctive.

This time the Grand Board ruled the word ‘Brexit’ was not ‘distinctive’ enough rather than being offensive, which it rejected. It ruled in its final judgement: ‘The term “Brexit” denotes a sovereign political decision, taken legally and has no negative moral connotations; it is not a provocation or incitement to crime or disorder.

But how does this make any more sense? As we've said, it's annoying when corporate interests attempt to cash in on pop and political culture with trademark law, but it's not against trademark law to do so. And a "Brexit Beer" certainly would be distinctive in the alcohol industry. The craft beer industry in particular has made an industry culture out of playfully referencing all sorts of things with their names and labels. I could see all kinds of creative ways for a "Brexit Beer" to be distinctive.

Again, this has the look and feel of the EU making these decisions for political reasons outside the purpose of trademark law. While we don't spend much effort around here arguing for more trademarks, it's worth pointing out when government bodies reject those trademarks improperly as well.

Filed Under: beer, brexit, eu ipo, ipo, trademark


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 May 2019 @ 6:28pm

    If and/or when...

    ...Britain does in fact exit their association with the EU, the brewery should just re-apply for their trademark, as then it would be under British rather than EU jurisdiction. I can't wait for what stupid excuse the Brits come up with for denying it.

    While I do think the mark is distinctive, I find the whole concept of Brexit offensive. Not Great Britain leaving the EU, but 'Brexit' as the descriptor of that action.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2019 @ 7:47pm

      Re: If and/or when...

      I find the whole concept of Brexit offensive. Not Great Britain leaving the EU, but 'Brexit' as the descriptor of that action.

      Because it completely ignores Northern Ireland?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2019 @ 8:04pm

        Re: Re: If and/or when...

        The only place where the only snakes are trouser snakes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 2:29am

        Re: Re: If and/or when...

        Seconded. I've yet to meet a Brexiter who actually cares about Northern Ireland, access to drugs, the status of EU residents like myself, trade with EU countries and the rest of the world (they seem to think that WTO is a magic bullet because Rees-Mogg et al pretty much told them so) and a host of other things that would be impacted by it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:23am

          Re: Re: Re: If and/or when...

          "I've yet to meet a Brexiter who actually cares about Northern Ireland..."

          And sadly that includes most of the british parliament who are likely to leave the entire mess until there's once again a hard border drawn between british north ireland and the inescapably resurgent IRA.

          "...access to drugs, the status of EU residents like myself, trade with EU countries and the rest of the world"

          Items of consideration which will fall into the category of "Foreign products" and "Not quite british" as far as the decisionmakers are concerned. John Bull remains a casually bigoted xenophobe.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 9:16am

      Re: If and/or when...

      It's all a dog and pony show anyway. Only a handful of people would want to drink that beer.
      Brexit Beer obviously tastes like crap, takes way too long to get down and keeps coming up at the least opportune moments. And the aftertaste... ugh.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2019 @ 8:01pm

    And this is an example of why Brits voted for Brexit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2019 @ 8:09pm

    Not "distinctive" enough?

    Sounds like Apple missed the memo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2019 @ 8:47pm

    So couldn’t they still use it as an unregistered trademark? Since it can’t be trademarked, anyone could use it. Just doesn’t have any protection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    freedomfan (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 3:51am

    Nothing ironic to see here... Keep moving along...

    Not defending the overall decision on policy grounds, this is a good chunk of why Brexit was approved. People quite reasonably resent distant bureaucrats with very little in the way of real accountability and clearly different sensibilities about what's "offensive" or "distinctive" making decisions about how locals can run their lives, right down to naming their beer. Once again, that doesn't mean Brexit was a great decision. But, for all the wailing about "How could Brexit even happen?" and "Why would anyone vote for Brexit?", this is how and why.

    And, while the beer trademark issue might seem like a minor thing or an anecdotal case, it would be easy to cite more cases of wheedling decisions made far away that piss people off. Some of those will be of trifling importance. But some... less so. We don't hear this angle on things much, but for sure there are people out there who grumble about things like the European Copyright Directive, the right to be forgotten, and so on and don't see much difference between the asshole beer trademark bureaucrats and the asshole bureaucrats ruining the internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dave W (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 6:26am

      Re: Nothing ironic to see here... Keep moving along...

      You forgot to note that the two men who own the brewery are immigrants from the EU.

      Irony +2

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 2:35am

      Re: Nothing ironic to see here... Keep moving along...

      Yeah... they are accountable to the EU Parliament. The British press does little to inform the public about how things actually work. What they do is push political agendas, mostly for non-domiciled owners who don't pay tax here.

      Those of us who take the time to find out more (usually while campaigning for change) have discovered that pressure works when correctly applied. Vague whining about petty bureaucrats doesn't make things change, contacting your MEP does. No directive or law can take effect without being ratified in the EU parliament and in our own.

      So then, it's the lack of awareness and engagement with their MEPs that leads to the kind of stupidity we've been seeing lately. And it ain't going to change till people stop reading the right wing press and learn to think for themselves.

      The BBC also needs to stop giving so much time to opinion-mongers and put facts and legal information front and centre.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 6:03am

    So what does Brexit Beer taste like?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Purity Denson (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 6:23am

    "the British public rode a wave of nationalism draped in false promises to decide to economically scuttle their own country"

    Bullshit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 2:36am

      Re:

      No, it's true. I live here and have spoken to people on both sides. The Brexit brigade trot out talking points while Remainers like me actually think about the consequences.

      Brexiters hope to muddle through.

      Remainers want a detailed plan of action.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:27am

        Re: Re:

        Although the brexit brigade mainly consists of wingnuts and lunatics riding a wave of brownshirted xenophobia...

        ...I honestly couldn't recommend staying in the EU either. It's not going to get any better. At best we can hope the EU collapses before lasting harm is done or we have to start referring to World War 3 to describe the wars of secession.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 6:49am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Eh? Calm down, dear!

          The EU won't collapse, it'll wobble on without the UK unless we come to our senses, agree to a second referendum, then opt to remain.

          It's not a monolithic entity run by a swivel-eyed dictator with rabid followers, it's a committee in which the members are constantly being harangued by a range of special interest groups vying to get their pet projects made into law.

          I don't know what prompted the refusal to block the trademark but I expect a walkback soon when the bosses find out that it's backfiring.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 6:30am

    once the UK has BREXITED the EU, they should apply again, this time just to the UK trademark. in the meantime, i wonder if the EU will give a trademark to a company that is there, such as Carling or Amstel, rather than in the UK?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 7:23am

    The European Union Intellectual Property Office (Euipo) denied a trademark for a ‘Brexit’ energy beverage back in 2016 after ruling the term was too ‘offensive’ to put on a can. An official had felt ‘citizens across the EU would be deeply offended’ and it would ‘undermine the weight of an expression denoting a seminal moment in the history of the European Union.’

    For some reason, the first thing that comes to mind is:

    Why is the Federation so obsessed with the Maquis? We've never harmed you. And yet we're constantly arrested and charged with terrorism. Starships chase us through the Badlands, and our supporters are harassed and ridiculed. Why? Because we've left the Federation, and that's the one thing you can't accept. Nobody leaves Paradise, everyone should want to be in the Federation! Hell, you even want the Cardassians to join. You're only sending them replicators because one day, they can take their rightful place on the Federation Council. You know, in some ways, you're even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious, you assimilate people - and they don't even know it.

    -- Michael Eddington, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:22am

      Re:

      Yeah, that's the story that's been trickling down through the right wing press for decades.

      There are indeed federalists in the EU, I know several people who also advocate for federalism. At one point some Europeans (mostly Germans) were convinced that one day we'd all merge into a superstate.

      Funny story... we've always had skeptics and separatists. We have several movements here in the UK including Scotland, Wales, Cumbria, and Cornwall. Yes indeed, some of our counties would gladly cut the rest of the country off and let it float away.

      In Italy there's the Padania movement and in Spain the Basques and Catalans want to secede. I'm sure there are parts of Germany, Poland, and France where people feel the same way.

      While it's no secret that the EEC (as it was) was predicated on the idea of eventual federalism the UK has opt-outs from that as it wanted the best of both worlds. The EU can pass whatever directives it likes but ultimately they have to be ratified in Parliament and are not legally binding until they have been. The Daily Mail's mad stories of straight bananas, etc., are mostly made up. We still use the Imperial system over here: I can buy my fruit and veg in pounds and ounces if I want to.

      While the decision to ban this trademark may well the result of some petty bureaucrats going on a power trip the mark only won't apply in the EU, the manufacturers can still get one over here in the UK. Well now it's gone global and the EU has been made to look stupid. Expect a walk-back in the next day or so.

      Great quote, BTW.

      Incidentally, my main source for EU law stuff, David Allen Green, who writes for the Financial Times, has stated that we could absolutely leave the EU on favourable terms and get along just fine... if we did it slowly, carefully unpicking the mesh of trade agreements and treaties that bind us to the EU. I'd be fine with that. It's the "Kick the country off a cliff and hope for the best" approach I have the problem with.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:36am

        Re: Re:

        "we've always had skeptics and separatists. We have several movements here in the UK including Scotland, Wales, Cumbria, and Cornwall. Yes indeed, some of our counties would gladly cut the rest of the country off and let it float away. In Italy there's the Padania movement and in Spain the Basques and Catalans want to secede. I'm sure there are parts of Germany, Poland, and France where people feel the same way."

        There's a vital difference. European unification has been on the table quite a lot of times. In relatively modern times the Roman republic - and latter on, empire - was the first contender for the job. It failed magnificently, as did all other who attempted it, from Charlemagne through Barbarossa to Hitler.

        It's always ended up with a wave of raging nationalism and isolationism sweeping across the continent, shattering the would-be empire into bits of hatred and suspicion.

        "carefully unpicking the mesh of trade agreements and treaties that bind us to the EU. I'd be fine with that. It's the "Kick the country off a cliff and hope for the best" approach I have the problem with."

        I'm aware of a few very rare examples where a country has managed to untangle itself from a pre-existing federation successfully. Normally it's a case of choosing to stay on a cliff alongside a flock of rabid wolves or taking the plunge in the hope of not getting eaten.

        The UK may have jumped the gun on that one, but I'm fairly sure getting out would be far harder later on.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 6:53am

          Re: Re: Re:

          There's a vital difference. European unification has been on the table quite a lot of times. In relatively modern times the Roman republic - and latter on, empire - was the first contender for the job. It failed magnificently, as did all other who attempted it, from Charlemagne through Barbarossa to Hitler.

          You can't really effect one o' those via committee. Comparing the EU to conquering dictators doesn't work. The EU can't unify as a single superstate because the people can't be persuaded to get with the program. Result: lot o' talk, little movement.

          This is why the EU is absolutely not a federation and never will become one. When we all share the same language, culture, and outlook, then it will be possible, i.e. not gonna happen because we can't agree on what any of those would be.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 11:37am

    Is it possible non-distinctive in this case means everyone and their dog has already been calling their beer "brexit beer" left right and center for 3 years before these guys tried to trademark it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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