The number of trademarks registered for spirits and liqueurs in the UK leapt by 41% last year, according to new figures that reflect the soaring demand for artisanal products and consumers’ continued thirst for gin.
The scale of innovation by big brands and supermarkets in their scramble to produce unusual flavours and colours is also triggering more disputes involving “copycat” name claims, research published on Monday by the law firm RPC shows.
There were 2,210 trademarks registered in 2017 – up from 1,570 in 2016 – with the number having risen by 84% over the last five years, from 1,199 in 2013, the RPC report said. In addition, 39 artisanal gin distilleries were opened in the UK in 2017 alone.
Flavoured gins have accelerated a revival of gin that began in 2009 with the launch of the Sipsmith craft brand and was followed by the launch of dozens of local distilleries. The drinks giant Diageo said last week that gin was the fastest-growing category across western Europe, with sales up 22%. Its Gordon’s brand launched a pink gin last summer, tapping into the Instagram-inspired popularity of colourful drinks and cocktails, while a new flavour from Tanqueray is a gin made with blood oranges called Flor de Sevilla.
“Brands are rushing to register spirit trademarks as the industry goes through a period of rapid innovation,” said Ben Mark, legal director at RPC. “Many drinks companies are adopting a strategy of launching multiple sub-brands and varieties of their drinks in order to meet consumer and retailers’ demands for limited runs and niche drinks. It is a big departure from 15 years ago, when drinks companies would concentrate their marketing spend on just a few core brands and products.”
But rapid expansion in this sector has also led to a flurry of counter-claims, added the RPC partner Ciara Cullen. “More products inevitably means more trademarks. As a result, competition among spirits producers is getting increasingly intense. As more businesses seek to establish and protect a strong brand identity amid a proliferation of launches of similar products, the chances of branding clashes and copycat claims is high.”
Among recent examples, the Scottish craft beer company BrewDog issued a legal warning against a Birmingham pub seeking to prevent it sharing its name with BrewDog’s gin brand Lone Wolf, though it was later withdrawn.
Bacardi’s application to trademark its Angel’s Envy whisky was refused after the absinthe manufacturer La Fee, which also has a product named Envy, complained. The Port of Leith Distillery disputed the Birmingham-based Gleann Mór Spirits Company’s application to register Leith Gin, but its challenge failed.