Brewdog loses legal battle with Elvis Presley estate

Scottish brewers BrewDog have lost a legal battle with the estate of Elvis Presley over the name of one of their beers.

American rock singer Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977). The iconic musician's estate won a local battle against Scottish brewers, BrewDog(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American rock singer Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977). The iconic musician's estate won a local battle against Scottish brewers, BrewDog(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The beer firm launched their grapefruit and blood orange Elvis Juice IPA in 2015 and they say it has become one of the company’s best-selling products.

However they were contacted by lawyers from The King’s estate who demanded they change the name of the beverage.

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In response, James Watt and Martin Dickie, founders of BrewDog, changed their names by deed poll to Elvis in a bid to prove the name was not exclusive.

Brewdog Public House, Cowgate, Edinburgh.Pic Neil Hanna

They insisted that the Elvis Juice IPA had no connection to the singer and suggested that there ought to be “a little less conversation and more time enjoying our beer”.

Although Elvis Presley died in 1977, his name and likeness have been trademarked by Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), which earns millions of dollars every year through a licensing programme that grants the right to manufacture and sell Elvis Presley merchandise worldwide.

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They objected after BrewDog applied to register the names ‘Elvis Juice’ and ‘Brewdog Elvis Juice’ as trademarks.

Brewdog Public House, Cowgate, Edinburgh.Pic Neil Hanna

The Elvis estate said the application overlapped with their registered trademark ‘Elvis’ and people could mistakenly believe that the beer was endorsed by them.

Now the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), who rule on trademark disputes, has found in favour of the Elvis estate following a hearing.

In a written ruling, trademark hearing officer Oliver Morris said: “Put simply, and notwithstanding that Mr Presley died nearly 40 years ago, he was/is such an iconic figure, that I would be very surprised if many people, including those at the younger end of the average consumer age spectrum, had not heard of him.

“There may be some exceptions, but this is likely to be few and far between.

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“The mark is, though, Elvis not Elvis Presley. However, on the basis that Elvis is a relatively uncommon name, and given that Mr Presley is the most famous of Elvises, I consider that most average consumers, on seeing the name Elvis alone, are likely to conceptualise that on the basis of Elvis Presley.

“Conceptually, both marks make reference to Elvis and I consider that most average consumers will think of Elvis Presley.

“The addition of juice gives a variation on this, but only to the extent that a reference is made to the liquid of which the goods comprise. I consider there to be a high degree of conceptual similarity.

“I consider that there is a likelihood of indirect confusion and that the average consumer will assume that the goods come from the same or a related undertaking.”

The ruling means BrewDog will have to change the name or apply to the Elvis estate for official permission to use it.

BrewDog has also been ordered to pay the Elvis estate’s £1,500 costs in the case.

In evidence given to the hearing, BrewDog’s finance director Neil Simpson said turnover for its Elvis Juice product was £1.9 million last year.

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BrewDog said it was famous in its own right and had “no need to ride on the coat tails of others.”

Watt and Dickie, who were at school together in Aberdeenshire, started BrewDog in 2007 with a bank loan and a grant from the Prince’s Trust because they couldn’t find anything they wanted to drink.

The company, which is based in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, has been valued at up to £1 billion and the pair were awarded MBEs last year. BrewDog currently has 47 bars and bottle shops and exports to 55 countries.

With the help of 50,000 craft beer crusaders, its innovative business model, Equity For Punks, has also taken more money through crowdfunding than any other business on record.