BrewDog: balancing trade mark protection and PR?

March 28, 2017

Trade Marks

You may have heard of BrewDog – the Scottish craft beer brewery and bar chain often credited as being a key player in the craft beer “revolution” in the UK. Usually in the headlines for quirky PR stunts and innovative approach to business, it will come as a shock to many that the headlines this week have not been as positive in relation to a recent trade mark dispute.

Since October 2016, BrewDog have owned a UK registered trade mark for a figurative logo of a wolf’s head against which the ‘LONE WOLF’ can be read. This trade mark is registered for numerous goods and services, including “beer and brewery products” and “bar services”.

In January this year an independent pub offering similar services was set up in Birmingham called ‘Lone Wolf’, which also made use of an arguably visually similar shaped ‘wolf’s face’ logo. BrewDog, having a registered trade mark, and considering the pub’s mark to be confusingly similar, allegedly threatened legal action against the ‘Lone Wolf’ pub if it did not rebrand. The pub subsequently rebranded to ‘The Wolf’.

All sorted?

Not quite. There was somewhat of a public backlash to BrewDog’s actions, with some members of the public claiming that this was yet another example of a large corporate using its size to bully smaller businesses.

BrewDog’s co-founders subsequently tweeted that BrewDog were happy for the Lone Wolf bar to “keep using the name”, and as the bar had already rebranded, that BrewDog would “cover all costs” of the bar’s rebrand.

So what’s the legal take on this?

We think BrewDog, on the whole, would have an arguable case if the pub had refused to rebrand. The marks are arguably similar and the goods/services for which it will be used are also arguably similar. This is the power of having a registered trade mark – it effectively gives you a monopoly. It can be used to prevent others from using marks which are similar or identical in relation to goods and/or services which are similar or identical.

As such, if BrewDog was not known for marketing itself as being not just another “faceless” brewing company, and was not as prominent as it is in the market, I would have expected to see BrewDog pursue this matter with a fair prospect of success.

Further, if BrewDog was a smaller brand trying to establish itself in the market, I would have advised it to pursue the matter in order to protect the brand being built.

That said, PR is also important, and larger companies taking legal action against much smaller businesses is something that is always likely to draw critics.

If you wish to discuss the value registered trade marks can add to your business, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our experts here at Briffa.


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