Brand protection essential as Scotland aims to be a Good Food Nation – Erik Rouk

Erik Rouk is a Trainee Trade Mark Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP
Erik Rouk is a Trainee Trade Mark Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP
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It is encouraging that Scottish food and drink businesses are continuing to recognise the importance and value of investing in their IP, says Erik Rouk

Scotland’s reputation for world-beating food and drink continues to grow and it is vital we celebrate the outstanding contributions of all producers – from household names to small artisan companies.

The recent Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards were an opportunity to do that and a timely reminder of what this country does incredibly well. The event recognised the efforts of businesses and individuals raising the bar and helping build Scotland’s reputation as a ‘Land of Food and Drink’.

Indeed, over the past 20 years, these awards have singled out for praise everyone from Aldi, to Simon Howie Food, Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd, Mackie’s of Scotland and Calmac Ferries Ltd.

Scotland Food & Drink itself – the industry leadership trade association established in 2007 – aims to grow the value of the industry to £30 billion by 2030, no mean feat to achieve given that the industry is currently worth £14 billion.

It plans to do this by adopting a hands-on support role, making connections to people and insights to help businesses all of all shapes and sizes to thrive.

It is not just trade associations pushing for meaningful progress and stepping up to the plate; the Scottish Government, too, remains bullish about its Good Food Nation policy. This outlines a vision for Scotland to become by 2025 a nation “where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day.”

It is a considerable challenge, particularly given the rise in food bank use, but it is also a laudable one that aspires to a future without those food banks.

Major aims of the policy include helping to improve access to, and understanding of, healthy local foods, ensuring the sustainability of the industry, and growing Scotland’s reputation as a Good Food Nation from which others can learn.

The bottom line, however, is that Holyrood wants the likes of hospitals, cafes and schools to improve what they serve, heightening access to healthy and nutritious food.

Responding to the Scottish Government’s recent Good Food Nation consultation, the National Farmers Union Scotland set out its vision of a country which values its farmers and crofters as producers of high-quality local food.

It is a contribution that must be spotlighted, as much for the positive impact on Scottish GDP and job generation, as for the improvement of education around seasonal food usage and culinary skills.

In Scotland, we are lucky to have so many well-known products with an international footprint, with surging whisky sales making up a major part of that despite Brexit concerns. Data published by the Scottish Whisky Association says, in 2018, Scotch whisky amounted to 21 per cent of all UK food and drink exports. Not to be outdone, Scottish food exports have grown 125 per cent since 2007.

However, in a mass consumption market such as food and drink, strong brand protection is essential. The Scottish food and drink sector has grown through hard work and innovation and established a reputation for quality. Ensuring that intellectual property (IP) rights are adequately secured and enforced, both at home and abroad, is therefore crucial.

Innovative solutions also help to protect IP more efficiently. Registrations with customs authorities forms a crucial part of IP protection to prevent counterfeit goods from being brought to market. For example, the European Union Intellectual Property Office has established an Enforcement Database which contains information on products granted an intellectual property right, like a registered trade mark or design.

Police and customs officials from all of the 28 Member States can access this tool to view information and product details, making it easier for them to identify counterfeits and take action.

Similarly, the IP Crime Directory launched by the City of London Police allows IP owners to input information to help law enforcement authorities protect their IP rights. The registration is straightforward and any information regarding brand protection placed on the website will only be accessible by law enforcement personnel.

It is an encouraging trend seen across our Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen offices that Scottish food and drink businesses are continuing to recognise the importance and value of investing in their IP. If Scotland is to become a Good Food Nation by 2025 and enjoy the fruits of a £30 billion industry in 2030, developing and protecting effective IP will be a vital asset in this process.

Erik Rouk is a Trainee Trade Mark Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP