LAWYERS have branded Australia as “one of the worst markets for the sale of fake Scotch whisky” and have applied to register the spirit as a certification trademark to protect Scotland’s national drink “Down Under”.
Glen Barclay, director of legal affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), warned that some Australian companies were diluting Scotch with other spirits and then trying to pass it off as whisky, while others are taking cheap whiskies and adding oak staves to try to make them taste older than they are.
Barclay – who has a team of four lawyers working to protect the industry, which exported £4.3 billion worth of drink last year – warned that fake Scotch robs legitimate companies of potential sales.
He added that counterfeiting can also dent the reputation of the whole sector.
Barclay told Scotland on Sunday: “A lot of these fake whiskies are of very low quality. If a drinker tries Scotch for the first time by tasting one of these products then it can put them off for life.”
The SWA applied in December for the certification trademark, which will make civil proceedings easier.
“Scotch whisky” was defined under Australian law up until 2000, when its food standards code was replaced with joint legislation enacted with New Zealand.
Under the changes, responsibility for policing the market was transferred to the drinks trade and, since 2005, the SWA has taken action to stop the sale of some 40 brands of fake Scotch.
But the trade body warned that the figure “may only be the tip of the iceberg”, with estimates suggesting that as many as two million counterfeit bottles may have been sold in Australia since 2005.
Barclay said that Intellectual Property (IP) Australia has already given the certification trademark the green light.
The application is currently being scrutinised by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, which will then refer it back to IP Australia. Opponents will then have three months in which to lodge objections, although Barclay does not expect anyone to put up a fight.
“If they are selling whisky then we don’t expect them to object to being subjected to the same rules as they would be in the UK,” he said.
The SWA hopes to have the certification trademark in place by the autumn.
Barclay added that the association has received support for its actions from some retailers in Australia.
News of the move came as the SWA made its annual legal report public for the first time, detailing cases in China, India, Italy, Thailand and the Dutch territory of Curacao in the Caribbean.
The SWA has been pursuing legal cases globally since the 1950s and has taken action against more than 1,000 brands and opposed the registration of some 3,000 trademarks.
At any one time, the association can be involved in up to 70 legal actions globally.