Beer Trademarks At Record High In UK As The Locking Up Of Language Continues To Boom

from the beer-me dept

We've been on this for some time now, but the explosion in the craft brewing industry has led to a likewise explosion in trademarks for individual brews and breweries. It's a problem very specific to the craft brewing industry for a number of reasons. First, this trademarking practice deviates from the tradition in the industry, which was one in which craft breweries were largely amicable and permissive with their cleverly named beers. Second, the explosive growth is quickly running into a roadblock of language, in which only so many words can be combined to name brews, even as the number of those brews on offer continues its exponential growth. Third, and perhaps most importantly, craft brewing is now big business, such that many macro-breweries are now gobbling up craft breweries, and those macros tend to be more litigious and more often engage in trademark bullying.

It's why, for several years now, we've talked about the coming trademark disaster for the industry, including highlighting legal experts for that industry trying to sound the alarm bells. None of this has slowed down the problem however, with the latest being that, to nobody's surprise, 2018 was a record year for beer trademarks being granted in the UK.

The number of trademarks registered for beer in the UK has hit a record high in 2018, jumping 6% to 2,519, up from 2,372 in 2017*, says RPC, the City-headquartered law firm. RPC says the continued boom in demand for craft beer and an increased range of low-alcohol beers has driven up the number of trademark registrations.

RPC adds that the rise in beer trademarks is being further driven by the demand for low-alcohol and alcohol-free beer, which has resulted in a proliferation of new low-alcohol beer brands. This demand is partly driven by younger generations, more of whom are going ‘teetotal’ or choosing to cut back on their alcohol intake for health purposes. UK sales of non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits reached a record high of £57m last year** - an increase of 39%.

This. Is. Not. Sustainable. It just simply isn't. If this industry is going to continue to grow, with that growth being good for literally everyone other than the largest breweries, this trademark-it-all attitude is eventually going to represent a brick wall. And we've already seen what this has meant for the industry, with a severe uptick in trademark disputes between breweries. Given how this industry operated for years and years, there is literally no reason why Techdirt's pages should be filled with stories about beer-related trademark disputes. And, yet, here we are.

And it's worth remembering that more trademarks mean exponentially more legal disputes, as overly aggressive legal teams see infringement shadows everywhere they turn.

RPC adds that as the number of beer trademarks continues to grow, so too does the likelihood of more legal battles over trade marks taking place. For example, Manchester based Cloudwater Brew was recently forced to rebrand its ‘Good Call Soda’ after Heineken said the name infringed on a trade mark it had registered for one of its brands, Fosters, for a TV advertising campaign.

Again, if you want to grow this industry, this is not the way to do it. It would be much better if the industry hadn't murdered its own tradition of congeniality in favor of permission culture.

Filed Under: beer, trademark, uk


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  • identicon
    Paul B, 26 Nov 2019 @ 8:34pm

    It Wont End till the Fat Lady Sings

    The fact of the matter is that this won't end till you reach a point that Trademarks all but stall out when every applied mark gets 2-3 hands saying they have it first for their brew.

    I am sure someone could calculate the reasonable namespace of beer names. At which point more names are derivatives of existing ones then not. Till you hit this tipping point no one will be happy with a fix to the naming system. Once you do hit that point, all incumbents will use the system to block new people.

    Honestly the fix is fairly easy though. All beer names are based on your brewery name + your individual brew name. Though this would never fly in today's world.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 27 Nov 2019 @ 12:48am

      Re: It Wont End till the Fat Lady Sings

      "Once you do hit that point, all incumbents will use the system to block new people."

      Already there - see the story where Heineken blocks a new beer because they used a slogan in an ad campaign.

      "All beer names are based on your brewery name + your individual brew name"

      That's not as simple as you think, though. Not only are a lot of brewery names similar and based on geography, there's also the possibility of customer confusion, which is what trademarks are means to prevent. For example, if your scheme is maintained, what's to stop a brewery in Newcastle-Under-Lyme from marketing their deceptive Brown Ale and therefore deliberately syphoning sales from the more famous version made in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2019 @ 3:28am

      Re: It Wont End till the Fat Lady Sings

      Better yet, return trademark to its original purpose, identifying the producer rather than the product. You can trade mark your brewery name, but not each and every flavour of beer.

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

  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 27 Nov 2019 @ 7:46am

    Or, for new 'actual' micro-breweries use some coin a name like Xerox for the company name and then all descriptive words for the beer. Like "MyKXCompany Brand Raspberry Pale Ale". Once there is a trademark on the coined name, the rest are just descriptive words that can't (or shouldn't be) subject to trademark. At least it is going to be very difficult describing a raspberry flavored drink that can't use the word raspberry, same with pale ale. Just. Saying.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2019 @ 9:14am

    It's about control

    It's about control. It's always been about control and like always when an Indie scene goes mainstream all of the congeniality that was in it before starts evaporating.

    They weren't congenial before this because they were good neighbors. They were congenial because it cost more that it was worth it to fight a trademark war. Now that the money is rolling in trademark fights are worth it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2019 @ 2:30pm

    Years and years?

    Kind of an understatement. Beer has been brewed for around 7000 years. That we know of. Could have been longer. People have kicked around the idea that people switched to agriculture and fixed settlements so they could make beer.

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


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