BrewDog Caught Up In Second Copyright Row

Scottish brewers BrewDog have been caught up in a second legal row following a previous row in which they blamed “trigger happy” lawyers after threatened legal action forced an independent pub to change their name. This latest spat follows a Guardian report in December 2016 when Brewdog contacted music promoter Tony Green over plans to open a bar in Leeds called “Draft Punk. Brewdog produce a IPA Punk beer and have registered the trademark “Punk”.

Brewdog have criticised on social media after the story about The Wolf in Birmingham.

Originally called The Lone Wolf, owners say they changed their name after receiving a letter from BrewDog’s lawyers threatening legal action.

Brewdog recently launched a vodka with the same name and the letter said they owned the trademark.

Co-founder James Watt initially blamed lawyers, saying in a tweet he has now deleted: “Our lawyers got a bit trigger happy. We are happy for the Lone Wolf Bar in Birmingham to keep using the name.”

So, what does this mean for British businesses and what can other business learn from the announcement?

Sharon Daboul, Senior Associate, Trademark Attorney @ London, EIP Europe LLP. Comments:

  • BrewDog owns the “Punk” trademark in relation to beer, but not pubs or bars
  • Registered trademarks offer powerful protection.  Having the registered trademark means that BrewDog could prevent others from using “Punk”, or a confusingly similar trademark, on similar goods or services.
  • Even if the goods and services are not that similar, BrewDog could succeed if it is able to show that it has established such a reputation in the name “Punk” that a bar with a similar name could take advantage of BrewDog’s reputation, or cause damage to it.
  • From BrewDog’s perspective, allowing others to register and/or use names or insignia in the drinks industry, that consumers identify so strongly with BrewDog’s brand, could muddy the waters and dilute its registered trademarks.  The risk is that consumers mistakenly believe that such pubs or bars were somehow endorsed by, sponsored by, or affiliated with BrewDog, when no such endorsement exists. There is no requirement that consumers actually believe BrewDog has opened up its own drinks establishments.  Having a strict trademark enforcement policy helps BrewDog to stand out in the beverages sector.
  • “David vs Goliath” trademark battles make for popular stories in the press, as the public tends to favour the plucky underdog against the muscle-flexing brand owner.  Many small businesses now take to the internet to vent their frustration, hoping a trial by social media will force the big brand into retreat to avoid a negative PR nightmare.  For some businesses, it seems to be their only option, when faced with a costly and lengthy dispute.  For the Wolf pub, in Birmingham, taking to Twitter turned out to be a successful strategy and BrewDog publically backed down.  In relation to the Draft Punk bar however, a lack of funds and the threat of court action forced the owner to rebrand, quietly.