Dry January trademark dispute after successful challenge upheld

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

(image: Getty/bymuratdeniz)
(image: Getty/bymuratdeniz)

Related tags Beer Low to no Legislation

A charity group has lost its bid to extend its trade mark of Dry January into the promotion of non-alcoholic drinks after a challenge by one brewer.

One of the UK’s leading alcohol-free brands, Big Drop Brewing Co, successfully challenged a trademark on partial use of the term ‘Dry January’ in a tribunal held by the UK Intellectual Property Office.

The trademark for Dry January was registered by Alcohol Research UK (now known as Alcohol Change UK) in 2014 to support its science-based resources for harmful and hazardous drinkers. This was in the primary class of educational and behavioural change programmes but, in 2022, ACUK sought to extend the trademark in new areas of products and services.

This attempt to trademark the phrase meant that ACUK argued that no one else - including low & no brands, venues and retailers - could use the words in relation to selling drinks. 

Big Drop decided to challenge this extension, claiming the move would monopolise the term, restricting the sales & marketing activity surrounding alcohol-free drinks but also having the unintended consequence of hindering the charity’s own overarching goal of reducing alcohol harm.

Rob Fink, founder of Big Drop, commented: “The alcohol-free movement has been driven by innovative start-up brands over the last few years by offering drinkers palatable alternatives for January and beyond. 

“A lot of people across the board actually enjoy doing Dry January to give their bodies a much-needed rest while seeking out new alternatives emerging in the drinks world. Indeed, high quality alcohol-free drinks give people a reason to go and support the hospitality industry in January and reward retailers who go large on their seasonal displays. 

“Many of those brands are pretty much aligned with ACUK on the need for effective work towards reducing alcohol harm so it makes sense to work together and not put-up unnecessary barriers.”

However, the ruling was played down by Alcohol Change, who said it made little material difference to anyone looking to use the trade marked term Dry January.

Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: “We trade marked our Dry January® programme in 2014 in the primary class of educational and behavioural change programmes. This includes both our famous ‘teacup with a cocktail umbrella’ logo and the “Dry January®” word mark – that is, the term “Dry January®”.

“In 2022, we sought to extend both trademarks into some new classes (areas of products and services), to reflect our growing partnerships and other activities surrounding the programme.

“The extension of the logo was passed, so our logo trade mark is registered in all these new classes. And most of the extensions for the word mark were also granted. One issue, however, was the extension into the class that covers alcohol-free and low-alcohol drinks. This extension relates to actual drinks that might use our Dry January® name, e.g. a Dry January® Pale Ale, or a Dry January® Wine. 

“Big Drop registered an objection to this specific extension and a couple of other classes. The trademark office rejected Big Drop’s objection in relation to our logo, but upheld it in relation to the word mark. However, any company that chose to name a product the “Dry January pale ale” or whatever, would still almost certainly be seen to be passing off our trade mark and would still be very likely to be committing a trade mark breach. 

“We’re very comfortable that the recent ruling makes no material difference to the position.

“It is also essential to note that this ruling was not about references to our Dry January® programme by alcohol-free low-alcohol drinks companies, e.g. “This is the official drink of Dry January®” or “This drink will help you with Dry January®.” Any such statements are, and continue to be, fully protected by the original 2014 registration, because these are clear references to our educational and behavioural change programme. 

“Any company wishing to refer to our programme should first seek permission to do so, or be in likely breach of our trade mark. We have and will continue to enforce our trade mark in this area; and only official partners have the right to use the name of our programme in this way. At the same time, we positively welcome conversations with any non-alcoholic brand that want to explore this with us – either in the UK or globally.”

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