We always stress the importance of protecting your brand by trademarking the name, identity and its associated positioning but what if that is not enough.
This week, an interesting case of brand security is in the Australian courts. It is a David and Golliath fight between CUB and Thunder Road Brewing Company to restore shelved beer brands and for once, I am on the side of the giant.
Brewing giant CUB, now part of SABMiller, owns the trademarks to many of our most well known beer brands. These include the iconic VB and Fosters (the famous Aussie beer that no-one drinks in Australia). Like many big companies, they also own the trademarks for many brands that they no longer have in production.
Melbourne based Thunder Road Brewing Company is now challenging CUB for 50 of their brands. Thunder Road is arguing that the brands represent Australia’s rich heritage and they have a right to keep them alive.
Phillip Withers, CEO from Thunder Road told ABC’s PM that CUB is “hoarding these trademarks… in order to maintain their domination of the Australian brewing industry.”
Withers claims that these are icons from the mid-19th century that reflect our brewing history and we should have a right to enjoy them.
While Withers can try and dress this argument up as in the public interest, Thunder Road is simply looking for a cheap way to acquire some brand heritage, without compensating the rightful brand owners.
CUB told The Age that they value their heritage brands very highly. “We have a great program in place that regularly releases them to the public. We would encourage Thunder Road to create its own history.”
Jeremy Griffith from CUB told ABC’s PM, “fundamentally these are our beers, these are part of our history, our heritage. They’re really important to us, they go to what we are as an organisation. So yeah, absolutely we’d want to defend it”.
The argument will centre on a loophole in the trademark law around brand usage. It’s true that many of these brands haven’t been used for decades, but how long is enough?
The outcome could potentially have wider implications for brand owners.
Brand owners need to have confidence that significant investment in building brands cannot be simply taken by opportunists who are too lazy or too cheap to create or properly acquire brands.
How much is brand heritage worth and should a company be able to trade off another company’s IP just because they are not using it?
The decision over the CUB brands is expected in the next few months.
Director of Brand Strategy