Ports Group – English / Blog / “Love me [bar]tender”

Little less than a month ago, Ports Groups Jennifer Godorn wrote a very interesting article about the complexity when a person’s name is also a trademark. Read it here.

As an interesting spin on that discussion, last week Scottish brewers BrewDog got away with a – to say the least – bold legal stunt. So bold that it actually made headlines in the “non-IP” related press (i.e. normal press).

The backdrop to the stunt in question are two trademark applications for 'ELVIS JUICE' and 'BREWDOG ELVIS JUICE'. This grapefruit flavoured IPA is BrewDog’s third most popular beer. The application was opposed by lawyers representing Elvis Presley’s estate, claiming that the name was likely to be confused with the trademarks already registered by the Elvis estate.[1]

In order to explain the following event, it is important to describe what kind of company BrewDog is. Founded in 2007 by two guys that, according to themselves, were “bored of the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK beer market”. [2]

BrewDog has from the get-go had a somewhat of a “punk” image. One of their first beers, and the perhaps most well known to date, is the Punk IPA, which in 2009 became the most top-selling IPA in Scandinavia.[3]

Also in 2009, BrewDog made headlines when they decided to make the world’s strongest beer, a 32% beer called Tactical Nuclear Penguin. In the following year, a German brewery released a 40% beer, named Schorschbock. BrewDog’s response? Release a 41% beer named Sink the Bismarck, of course.[4]

BrewDog has in ten years grown to become a company of 750 employees (and a dog). Their beers can be found in their own 46 bars, as well as in other bars and shops all around the world.

Being this kind enfant terrible of the brewery world, you would think they would not care too much about intellectual property rights at all. However, the BrewDog case is great example of the fact that companies of a certain size ultimately has a business to protect. Their own ambiguity towards the “stuffy” world of intellectual property rights is best exemplified in this blogpost from last year, which starts with a statement that BrewDog is “pretty relaxed about our intellectual property”. However, the post is still named “Please don’t steal our Trademarks”.

Getting back to the previously mentioned intellectual property hurdle that BrewDog faced with 'ELVIS JUICE'. Now knowing a little more about BrewDog, one can expect a creative response, right? What BrewDog founders James Watt and Martin Dickie actually did was to legally change their names to ‘Elvis Watt’ and ‘Elvis Dickie’. Why? In order to demonstrate the lack of exclusivity of the name Elvis of course.

The whole ordeal was finally settled when it was announced that BrewDog could get a trademark registration for ‘BREWDOG ELVIS JUICE’, but not for ‘ELVIS JUICE’. The reason given by the Appointed Person (AP) was that 'BREWDOG' is at least, if not more, distinctive than 'ELVIS' and considered that "the common element of ELVIS is not enough on its own to make consumers think there is a link between the mark ELVIS and BREWDOG ELVIS JUICE".[5]

So what the AP is saying is that the BrewDog brand is potentially more well-known than Elvis? It is a ‘brand’ new world out there.


[1] Lexology

[2] BrewDog

[3] BrewDog

[4] BBC

[5] Lexology

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