When is a Radler not a Radler?

Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Beer brewing at a commercial level can be a cut throat business.

Competition around breweries, both small and large, is intense as the industry is highly competitive and driven by the need to make money.

Small breweries often have to compete with larger, established breweries for market share and customers. They often differentiate themselves through unique and innovative products, personalized customer experiences, and a focus on local and sustainable ingredients. They also leverage their size to be nimble and quickly adapt to market changes.

Large breweries, on the other hand, have the advantage of economies of scale and established brand recognition. They compete by investing in marketing, distribution, and product development to stay ahead of trends and maintain their market position.

It's within that context that the commercialisation of the beer industry can cast a pall over the beer making industry.

Costs can be saved by making changes to beer (looking at you Schlitz beer!) but when companies start to trade mark beer styles, things can get pretty interesting...

radler beers

In 2011 in New Zealand, DB Breweries won a polarizing trademark case over the use of the name Radler on one of its beers.

The brewery took action in 2008 against Dunedin-based Green Man Brewery, saying its use of the name was a trademark breach.

DB manged to get the beer style"radler" trade marked in 2003, two years after its Monteith's Radler beer was first marketed (and at 5% ABV it's not even a real radler!!)

The Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) applied to the Intellectual Property Office (IPOZ) tohave DB's trademark over turned, arguing that Radler was a generic term for a style of beer.

Which it damn well is.

However, people smarter than this author at the Intellectual Property Office decided DB's trademark should not be cancelled.

IPONZ decided DB's trademark should not be cancelled on the basis the term radler was not known as a descriptive term in New Zealand when the trademark was granted in 2004.

That kind of makes sense if that were true!

This ruling caused beer enthusiasts to be outraged.

Matt Kirkegaard of Brews News went as far to say it was a 'a single source of bastardry'.

He really let them have it too:
This is the worst form of cynical business practice, using trademark law to effectively annexe an idea – and not an original idea – in a local market. Monteith’s Radler is a brand that can be owned by DB Breweries, Radler is a style owned by beer lovers the world over – including New Zealand. DB’s ability to trademark an international beer style should be regarded as a national embarrassment by New Zealanders, but DB’s cynical use of trademark law shows that the company does not care about beer and nor does it care about developing a beer culture. It is only interested in putting a wall around a style and colonising it. 

That pretty much sums up our feelings on the issue as well. 

A great example of a properly trademarked beer name comes from the pilsner beer style

Pilsner Urquell is a Bohemian Pilsner-style lager beer that is brewed by the Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery in Plzeň (Pilsen), Czech Republic. It is considered to be the original Pilsner-style beer and is one of the world's oldest continuously brewed beers.

Pilsner Urquell was first brewed in 1842 and quickly became popular due to its clear, golden color, crisp flavor, and light bitterness. The beer's popularity led to numerous imitators, and to protect its brand, the Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery trademarked the name "Pilsner Urquell".

Today, Pilsner Urquell is still brewed using traditional methods and ingredients, including Moravian barley and Saaz hops. The trademark helps to ensure that only beers brewed by the Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery can be marketed as "Pilsner Urquell".

The trademark and the beer's long history have helped to establish Pilsner Urquell as one of the most recognizable and respected beer brands in the world.

Budweiser vs. Budvar - the legendary trade mark dispute

This is one of the most famous beer name disputes, with the American brewery Anheuser-Busch claiming the right to the name "Budweiser" and the Czech brewery Budejovicky Budvar claiming the same name for their own beer.

The Budweiser vs. Budvar dispute is a long-standing trademark dispute between two breweries over the use of the name "Budweiser". The American brewery Anheuser-Busch claims the right to use the name "Budweiser" for their beer, while the Czech brewery Budejovicky Budvar claims the same name for their own beer.

The dispute began in the late 19th century when Anheuser-Busch started exporting its beer to Europe, including to the Czech Republic. Budejovicky Budvar, a Czech brewery located in the city of České Budějovice, which was also known as Budweis, claimed that the name "Budweiser" was too similar to their own brand name and that Anheuser-Busch was attempting to trade off of their established reputation.

Over the years, the two breweries have engaged in numerous legal battles in various countries, with each side seeking to protect their rights to the name "Budweiser". In some cases, Anheuser-Busch has been successful in preventing Budejovicky Budvar from using the name "Budweiser", while in other cases, Budejovicky Budvar has been successful in protecting their own brand.

There are some other notable battles over trademarked beer names too.

  • Newcastle Brown Ale vs. New Castle Brown Ale: In the 1990s, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries sued The Brewers Association for trademark infringement after the association started producing a beer under the name "New Castle Brown Ale".
  • Blue Moon vs. Bell's Brewery: In 2011, Bell's Brewery sued MillerCoors for trademark infringement, claiming that their use of the name "Blue Moon" for a Belgian-style wheat beer was too similar to Bell's already-established "Blue Moon" brand.
  • Sierra Nevada vs. Shingle Springs Brewing Company: In 2011, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company sued Shingle Springs Brewing Company for trademark infringement, claiming that the smaller brewery's use of the name "Sierra Nevada" was too similar to Sierra Nevada's own well-established brand.
  • Fat Tire vs. Fat Tyre: In 2016, New Belgium Brewing sued Grand Rapid's Founders Brewing Company over the use of the name "Fat Tyre" for their own beer, claiming that it was too similar to New Belgium's "Fat Tire" brand.

How Champagne wine is protected from imitators

The name "Champagne" is a protected designation of origin (PDO) in France and is governed by geolocation laws. This means that the name "Champagne" can only be used to describe sparkling wine that is produced in the Champagne region of France and that meets certain production standards. These standards are designed to ensure that the wine produced in the Champagne region has a unique and consistent character, and that the name "Champagne" is not used to describe lower quality sparkling wines from other regions.

These geolocation laws have been put in place to protect the reputation of the Champagne region and the sparkling wines produced there, and to prevent other producers from using the name "Champagne" to describe their own products.

Geolocation laws are a form of intellectual property protection that are designed to prevent the misuse of geographical indications, or names that are associated with a specific region and its products. These laws are used in a number of different industries, including food, wine, and spirits, to protect the reputation and heritage of specific regions and the products they produce.

By protecting the use of the name "Champagne" and enforcing strict production standards, the French government and the Champagne wine industry aim to maintain the high quality and reputation of this iconic sparkling wine, and to prevent other producers from diluting the brand.

Here's some examples of other PDO
  1. Champagne (sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France)
  2. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (hard cheese from the Parma and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy)
  3. Chianti wine (red wine from the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy)
  4. Parma ham (cured ham from the Parma region of Italy)
  5. Bordeaux wine (red and white wine from the Bordeaux region of France)
  6. Feta cheese (brined cheese from Greece)
  7. Prosciutto di Parma (cured ham from the Parma region of Italy)
  8. Scotch Whisky (whiskey produced in Scotland)
  9. Cognac (brandy from the Cognac region of France)
  10. Darjeeling tea (tea from the Darjeeling region of India)
All designed to protect the local producers of course!


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