Summer is with us, the time of year when many sit in their local beer garden with a pint or bottle of something chilled. And there has never been so much choice.
From wines to lagers, beers, alcopops, traditional ciders and soft drinks. Most, if not all, will try to grab your attention with a catchy name or logo. Ever since the burly representatives from Bass brewers muscled themselves to the front of the queue at the trade mark registry in 1876, names for alcoholic beverages have been very popular.
With many microbreweries and craft beers starting up, the market is becoming increasingly crowded and fewer names available. There is also a lot of confusion in the community, both among brewers and their customers, about what trade mark law covers and what it does not. In the brewing context, a trademark is any sign that serves to identify a beer or brand and distinguish it from other brewery beers and brands.
Many businesses think they are protected if they register the company name with Companies House. Unfortunately, this does not give you trade mark rights. It may give you the right to name your company that, but it doesn’t give you the right to put that name on a product or service.
Another misconception is that registering a website or setting up a social media account establishes trade mark protection. Again, owning the domain name does not give you a trade mark.
Although there are unregistered rights, these can be more difficult to enforce. Proving that you have established a reputation behind the mark, showing that your customers have been confused and showing harm done, can be quite difficult.
The first step in choosing a brewery or brand name is to research whether anyone else is using it. Searching the trade mark register is an essential requirement for any business, not just breweries. Making sure that the name you have chosen is free to use is crucial. The last thing that a new business needs is a dispute over a name.
If the name appears available after a thorough review, the next step is to consider registration at the IPO or through one of the international routes. An IP professional can help you through all these stages.
Unfortunately disputes do happen, some are well publicised and go on for years. Who hasn’t heard of the Budweiser and Budwar saga? Most, however, are settled quietly and amicably among the parties.
One method of resolving disputes is mediation. Mediation is a way of resolving disputes without going to court. It is cheaper and quicker than litigation and the outcome is usually beneficial to all parties. Mediation allows you and the opposing party to talk about the dispute with the help of a mediator. The mediator’s role is not to make a decision on the dispute but to help both parties find a solution that they are happy with.
We encourage parties to consider mediation as an alternative to litigation and have some resources that will be helpful.
So, should you trade mark your new drinks brand? It's definitely worth considering.