Elixir Brew Co was given a reprieve this week after Everards Brewery backed down over its trademark dispute with the tiny Scottish firm.
But with such legal threats becoming more and more common – Belleville vs AbInBev, Redwell vs Red Bull, Weird Beard vs Camden Town have all hit the beery headlines in the last few months – what can a microbrewery do when faced with the legal and financial might of a more established company?
We asked Simon Miles of Morpeth-based Anarchy Brew Co, which was forced to change its name from Brew Star in September 2012 after a trademark claim from Brewsters brewery in Grantham, Lincolnshire, for his thoughts.
“Only the courts can decide what the outcome of a legal trademark dispute will be and unfortunately the legal process will take lots of your cash and lots of your time,” said Simon, who’s firm has since embraced the change of name with beers like the 7% ABV Siba award winning breakfast stout Sublime Chaos, 6.6% ABV IPA Quiet Riot and the monster 10% ABV, 100 IBU Warhead.
“We had neither the time nor the money to pursue our legal battle – but we had the cash for a barristers opinion.
“In short, our barristers opinion was after all only an opinion, and the risks outlined – including potentially huge court fees plus a risk of still being forced to change the company name at the end of it all should we lose the fight – were not for us.
“So we chose to change our name, with six months grace to clear out the stockroom and branding.”
But what if another brewery finds themselves in a similar situation? Simon believes that the options are limited.
“I think there are only three options,” he said. “The first is to take on the battle, assuming the barristers opinion isn’t such a one where he or she isn’t sitting on the fence, and you’ve got access to huge amounts of cash to cover the ongoing legal fees. We were told it could take as much as £25,000 to take on a trademark battle.
“Or secondly, without fuss, change your name and keep your cash, allowing you to focus on running your business. Quick and easy. Yes its a pain to go through changing everything and rebranding, plus having to explain to your customers why all of a sudden the company name change, but it was worth all the hassle it for us, in the end.
“Lastly, try to come to some sort of agreement with the other party without the courts, however, get any agreement put through a solicitor.
“But my major advice would be that if you think your company name or a product name is worth protecting, and you’ve got the cash to register it, then apply for a trademark with the Intellectual Property Office sooner rather than later.”
In Elixir’s case Everards decided that as its trademark application was for the name of the brewery and not a beer and, following a social media campaign spearheaded by Richard Taylor at The Beercast that saw #SaveElixirBrewCo trend on Twitter, that they would allow the firm to continue to trade.
In a statement on its Facebook page the large Leicestershire brewery said: “Like many breweries we trademark our beers to ensure that customers can buy our beers with confidence, knowing they are the genuine article and to avoid any confusion.
“Trademarking is a standard business practice that we will continue to use, however the team at Everards have reflected on this particular case. We have decided that, as the name refers to the company rather than the beer, we will not pursue this any further.”