It seems that BrewDog is currently in the PR dog house for taking a ‘heavy-handed’ approach to the enforcement of its pack of trade mark rights. A surprising, undesirable, and somewhat ironic position for the brewing company with a ‘punk’ ethos to find themselves in, given that they have themselves been notably critical of overzealous practices by large corporations on this very same subject.
As reported on our blog last year (here), BrewDog found themselves on the wrong side of cease and desist correspondence when the estate of Elvis Presley raised allegations of trade mark infringement in respect of BrewDog’s ELVIS JUICE beer. BrewDog’s founders sassily responded by changing their first names to ‘Elvis’ and issuing a firm statement on their website (here) in which they growled that they didn’t ‘take too kindly’ to the allegations.
Fast-forward to 2017, and BrewDog now finds itself the subject of similar ‘David versus Goliath’ style criticisms in the media after the founders’ intervention was required to call off the dogs and muzzle their lawyers.
It was reported that The Lone Wolf, an independent pub in Birmingham, was snarled at by BrewDog’s lawyers, hounding them to change their name given its alleged conflict with one of BrewDog’s spirits sold under the registered trade mark LONE WOLF. A further media report also alleged that BrewDog’s legal team had mauled a bar in Leeds planning to open under the name DRAFT PUNK. But BrewDog were quick to publicly rein in the leash on their lawyers on their Twitter feed, and issued an endearing statement on their website (here) entitled, ‘Please don’t steal our trade marks’ in which they attempted to make their ethos on IP enforcement clear. In an effort to lick the wounds inflicted, BrewDog admitted the approach had been ‘a mistake’ because ‘at BrewDog we should take the view to only enforce [our trade marks] if something really detrimental to our business is happening.’
Confident that we have now squeezed in sufficient canine puns, we can conclude that BrewDog’s battle to balance the protection of their valuable trade mark rights with the maintenance of their nonconformist, pro-underdog reputation, is a common dilemma shared by many brand owners in the modern day economy. It also serves as a useful reminder of the potential PR implications and the immediate and scalable backlash that brand owners can face on social media if they are perceived to take an overly aggressive, and trigger-happy, approach to the enforcement of their rights, unfairly or otherwise.