As the brewing industry continues to expand enormously, one of the recent trends seems to be an increase in unsavoury jostling within the market, with regard to beer names and intellectual property. Trademark disputes, unquestionably, are on the rise. British beer is ballooning in scale at the moment – only surface tension is preventing it from going truly bonkers – and over the last few months a number of high-profile disputes have taken place that have caused ripples to appear. Belleville vs AbInBev, Redwell vs Red Bull, Weird Beard vs Camden Town.
To that list, we can now add Elixir vs Everards. The Leicestershire super-regional has threatened legal action against the Scottish nanobrewery Elixir Brew Co over their pending application to trademark their brewery name. In a series of correspondence, I am led to believe that Everards have stated their ownership of the Trade Mark ‘Elixir’, and have demanded the Livingston contract brewery not only withdraw their application, but cease using the name ‘Elixir’ immediately. As I understand it, they have further demanded the withdrawal of all Elixir products from sale, in every UK market, by this Friday.
This means, with Elixir Brew Co not having the money to pursue the matter further in the courts, within three days they will cease to exist.
The reason for this action is a 3.9% summer cask seasonal – Everards Elixir, which was released in the Spring of 2012. The Leicestershire brewery have, apparently, claimed extensive use of the name – although I could find no reference to the beer on their website. According to the Intellectual Property Office, representatives acting on behalf of Everards filed a Trade Mark application for the word ‘Elixir’ on the 8th of August 2012, as one of the 78 owned by the Leicestershire brewery. Filed under Class 32 (beer, lager, ale, porter, stout, bitter), the Trade Mark was filed three days before Elixir Brew Co began their debut social media campaign on the 11th of August.
Given there is so little crossover between the two breweries, despite being in the same industry, it seems some degree of compromise could be reached; after all, the beer review site RateBeer lists 50 different beers that contain the word ‘Elixir’ (a figure which does not include those brewed by Elixir Brew Co, nor Everards Elixir). Further, the E-word is, and was in the process of being trademarked as, the Livingston producers brewery name, as opposed to a name of one of their products. Speaking of which, the first one of those – Elixir Brew Co Benedictine Groove (pictured above) has been on sale for nearly eighteen months, unopposed, until now.
Having spoken to Elixir Brew Co founder Ben Bullen, he respects – and was always willing to respect – the fact that Everards had trademarked the word, despite him registering the name as a website url on the 29th of January 2012, several months before the Leicestershire brewery released their beer. Throughout this process of dispute, to date he has received no contact from anyone at Everards – despite continued calls and letters to attempt to begin some degree of dialogue. No correspondence has been returned, with the trademark representatives of Everards issuing several multi-point letters, evidently increasingly irate in their demands (the initial letter of objection he has apparently no proof of having ever received).
Ben has since retained the services of his own legal team – at no small cost, given he is currently working several jobs to merely collate enough money to cover his brewing overheads. I think he genuinely feels steamrollered by this – particularly that following his representatives’ letter to Everards, wishing to pursue a solution that might be mutually agreeable, the Leicestershire brewery responded with an unchanged set of conditions, and only a week to comply. This refusal of Everards to even discuss their opinions in person seems to go against the individual philosophy of Chairman Richard Everard OBE “I treat people in a friendly way and am always approachable.”
Trademark disputes, and ‘cease and desist’ letters, are nothing new in business – let alone the brewing business. But as the numbers of British breweries increase to such an extent, naming disputes, however they are handled, will only increase. What shouldn’t come into it, however, is the big incessantly crushing the small, particularly if the wronged party publicly states a set of beliefs, yet conduct their position in private, from behind a barricade of solicitors. For the sake of a seasonal beer (with seven reviews on RateBeer), one company looks set to put another out of business. I guess you can only “encourage others to progress”, so far.
EDIT 04/03/2014 9:00pm
As detailed in the comment by Everards below, at around 9pm they issued a statement on their Facebook page stating “We have decided that, as the name refers to the company rather than the beer, we will not pursue this any further.” Assuming Ben Bullen receives this in writing, it shows – to a quite astonishing degree – the power of social media and how it can now influence policy in major companies. These kind of disputes, though, will still continue – and will still occur more often – but maybe outcomes like this, and the others recently, may persuade some who are thinking of putting the clamps on in a trademark battle to seek a more personal approach first, to see if differences can be overcome.