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Collaborators to Challengers: Big Drop Vs Alcohol Change UK in ‘Dry January’ Trademark Dispute

Updated: Apr 28

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


Clockwise from top left -1.Big Drop founder Rob Fink, 2.Four cans of Big Drop alcohol-free beer on a bar top, 3.Alcohol Uk Dry January teacup logo on a yellow background, 4.Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK
Top: Big Drop founder Rob Fink, Bottom: Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK

The decision, which considered several categories of registration, can be read in full here https://www.ipo.gov.uk/t-challenge-decision-results/o013124.pdf

 

Challenge

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 into new areas of products and services.

 

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


Big Drop reasoned that this unduly monopolised the term, not only restricting the sales and 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." 


He continues, "Indeed, high-quality, alcohol-free drinks give people a reason to 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."



Rebuttle

In response to Big Drop's statement, Alcohol Change UK shared the following statement from Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, "Alcohol Change UK created and runs the free Dry January® programme, which is hugely successful in helping harmful and hazardous drinkers get their alcohol consumption back under control. Importantly, the programme involves not just staying dry for a month but also benefitting from our science-based free resources – it's the combination of the two that forms Dry January®.


"We've been delighted in recent years to work in partnership with alcohol-free drinks companies to grow their brands and support the Dry January® programme. Our first-ever Dry January® programme partner was Big Drop. Last year, we worked with Lucky Saint*, Mocktails*, Lyre's*, Dry Drinker*, Wise Bartender and Nunc* in the alcohol-free and low-alcohol space, alongside partners in other sectors. We positively welcome conversations with any company that wants to explore joining us as a partner – either in the UK or globally.


"In 2022, we sought to extend registered protection for the word mark into some new classes to reflect our growing partnerships and other activities surrounding the programme. Our application for the word mark was accepted in all these new classes by the Trade Marks Registry. However, whilst the Registry accepted our extension of the word mark in all the new classes, it was successfully opposed by Big Drop Brewing for goods and services in classes 30, 32, and parts of 35 and 43 in a ruling in February 2024.


"This ruling made no change to:

  • Alcohol Change UK's ability to protect the unregistered right acquired in our brand under the common law of 'passing off' by any company that chose to name a product, for example, the "Dry January Pale Ale;

  • The fact that references to our Dry January® programme by alcohol-free or low-alcohol drinks producers or retailers are still protected by the original 2013 registration, for example, implying "This drink will help you with the Dry January® programme" or using "#dryjanuary" next to their product in a manner which indicates that Alcohol Change UK has authorised that use or the product is associated with our programme."



It's clear that the clash between Big Drop and Alcohol-Change UK transcends mere legalities; it symbolizes the complexities of a growing industry as entities from differing sectors seek to find ways to traverse a common ground from different advances.


 

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