Craft brewing has become big business. Across the UK, craft breweries have hit a record high with 520 opening last year alone.
Few embody the craft beer explosion like BrewDog, the upstart for ‘punks’ which has gone from underdog to top dog since being formed a decade ago.
BrewDog’s meteoric rise hasn’t come without hiccups. They have come in for some criticism – mainly from their own ‘punk’ followers – for recently threatening legal action against pubs twice in quick succession.
Its founder blamed trigger-happy lawyers after they threatened a pub in Birmingham which wanted to call itself The Lone Wolf, a term trademarked by BrewDog for a spirit two years ago.
Then, it ordered a bar owner in Leeds who wanted to name his place Draft Punk to desist because BrewDog has produced a Punk IPA since 2007 and trademarked the word in relation to beers and lagers.
As a result, BrewDog has faced criticism. Though it’s not very punk, BrewDog are within their rights to challenge these pubs and would have risked forfeiting their rights to object to others in future had they not.
What BrewDog’s legal wrangling has done is put the spotlight on a growing issue for the sector going forward, and the increased risk of intellectual property infringement due to the sheer number of brands which are out there.
For brewers, crafting a distinctive brand with personality is arguably more important than crafting a tasty beer. These are valuable commodities and not investing in protecting them initially could prove more costly through a loss of sales or profits as new rivals pop up all the time and encroach on each other’s territory.
Registering a trademark is key to protecting not only a brand but a business.
It’s a common misconception that it is expensive and time consuming to trademark names, logos and branding and a prevailing view that it’s not worthwhile to small businesses.
However, it can cost as little as £200 for ten years of protection and, so long as there are no objections, about four months to complete the registration process.
When weighed up against the time, money and difficulty in raising action against those infringing on trademarks, the small investment at the outset is a no-brainer.
Whether a billion-dollar behemoth like BrewDog or a local brewer, distinctive and properly registered branding is essential to help minimise headaches further down the line.
Craft brewers can forge a unique identity that large firms simply can’t replicate. Naturally, BrewDog has lost some of this charm as a by-product of its astronomical rise.
But in a crowded marketplace where competition is expected to become more fierce, any brewer with aspirations to reach the same heady heights should consider trademark registration sooner rather than later.
Ruth Weir is senior solicitor, corporate and commercial, for national law firm Blackadders.