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The Fun of Business

With a little bit of time on my hands I thought I’d share our experience of an Intellectual Property (IP) encounter we had, this means things that may be in conflict with a Trade Mark. Companies Trade Mark (TM) their goods to stop other people copying them, which is pretty fair.

You will no doubt know a few cases that have been prominent in the media and the most recent would be Boss Brewing and their spat with Hugo Boss where comedian Joe Lycett actually changed his name to Hugo Boss in support of the Microbrewery to highlight the stupidity of it all.

Large companies and global brands, with their associated wealth, trademark many product names in many categories and use a blanket cover approach so they tie up their product name so even if a company never make a Beer called ‘Red Bull’ they want to stop any other companies from being able to call a beer anything like Red Dull, Bed Bull, Red Well, Ded Bull etc etc.

Most brewers just think of a beer name and slap it on the Pumpclip, though these days each name we put on a Pumpclip is run through the Trade Mark Office search to check for any pre-existing conflicts, we can also Google to check for beer products already on the market and see if other brewers are using the name in places like Untappd.

Come to think of it our very first instance of this effecting our company is when I used the name of a well known portable toilet provider to describe a portable loo on our Blog, we were asked by the company to change the name as it wasn’t their brand of Dr. Who-style toilet!
Another was when we were going to name a beer Flat Cap for the Cap & Collar’s Birthday beer once too, if you’ve done some drinking in the Cap & Collar you’ll know the Flat Cap connection, though there is another brewer over in Lancashire that phoned and didn’t like us using that name even though they didn’t have a TM on it we picked another name.

I’ve had an instance where we thought of a beer name, spotted it looked *but wasn’t* the same as another brewer’s beer, I thought I’d be polite and ask because brewers are all nice folk and there wouldn’t be any conflict. Sadly that brewer did not turn out to be the polite conversation I had assumed it would be, quite odd. Literally 1 letter difference in a name can be felt as a conflict of interests if the rest of the name looks like someone’s TM even if the letters are all in a different order and the meaning is totally different.

All this brings me on to the main event.

We had brewed a beer a couple of times, named after an Austrian physicist (First name) Christian, who described a change in frequency of a wave in relation to an observer who is moving relative to the wave source in 1842. Now I wouldn’t normally think that something from science which I very much think of as Public Domain would indeed have a TM attached to it. If you want to, you can recreate this effect at home or in your garden with a length of hose pipe with a mouth piece attached to it, make a Trumpet sound by blowing down the hose pipe and swing the other end of the hose around in circles and you can hear for yourselves. Much fun as a kid making a massively loud Elephant trumpet noise in the back garden 😉 A Cyclic-Elephant.

I digress, anyway…..
So this beer name we chose had been picked up by an IP Law company, I assume these companies are the sort that are continually searching Google for names that may be in conflict with their client’s interests (That’s ‘Interests’ meaning TM’s that the client has paid for)
You could say ‘Money for Old Rope’ at this point and for the most part that’s about right.
The first we knew was a letter arriving with some very strong wording about IP law regarding our choice of beer name. Next a Phone call from the IP Law firm which added a little nuance to what has been in the written letter, we also had email of the same, more email an phone calls went on and the phone calls always included extra things that weren’t in writing and looking back I would consider these to be bullying tactics from the IP law firm that they knew they couldn’t put in writing. *Refer back to the top of the page and We always do our TM searches now*

We did our internet searching to try and find this IP Law firm’s client’s business and here’s what we found about that client’s brewery name and beer names:

  • Non-trading entity
  • No products in the market
  • A minimal and very recently created social media presence
  • No brewery premises
  • Multiple companies house name changes stretching back a few years
  • Directors with multiple interests that stretch back to other people and an eventual brewery that traded a lot of years back
  • A bunch of Trademarks for products that aren’t being made

With all that in mind you would think there wouldn’t be any conflict, and if a brewer hadn’t done an initial TM search but had Google Searched for any product in the market place they wouldn’t have found a conflict. The IP law firm wanted us to sign a document, we took advice and amended the document before signing it as it was far from being fair to the situation. This was accepted by the law firm and no action was taken.

To be very honest after we did our research it all felt like a massive scam to try and get money out of us. So I hope this serves as a cautionary tale and useful information for brewers when they name their beers. As this was not a fun experience and strayed about as far away as I could imagine from our feeling that brewers were all helpful, nice folks and “beer people are good people”. Some businesses are arse holes with horrible IP law firms.

Never speak on the Phone to IP law firms, refer then to email. Everything in writing.