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Trademark skirmish for our heritage

  • Date: Monday 25th November 2019
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The news that Highland Park whisky are facing a legal battle with an American drinks company highlights just how important it is to ensure trademark protection for Scottish businesses

Joseph A. Magnus & Co, which makes bourbon and gin, has claimed Highland Park does not have the rights to use the word ‘Magnus’ on its expression which is available to purchase in the US.

It is suing the Scottish brand, owned by Edrington, for bearing a similar appearance and design to its own Joseph Magnus bourbon.

It’s not the first time this year Scottish whisky firms have been in the news for being embroiled in trademark infringement issues, either.

Glenfiddich lost its legal battle against an Indian drinks company back in April after accusing them of appropriating their colours, fonts and stag imagery for their Glenfield Scotch whisky label. However, the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) ruled against William Grant & Sons, the owner of the Scottish whisky, stating it was unlikely consumers would confuse the two brands.

Part of Glenfield’s argument was that no one could trademark the word ‘glen’ as it refers to a narrow valley. While I can see the logic in this, back in February the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) won a six-year trademark dispute against German brand Glen Buchenbach for using the same term on its bottles.

The SWA successfully argued it was misleading for a non-Scottish whisky to include the word and infringed on Scotch whisky’s protected geographical indication status.

Whisky is one of Scotland’s biggest exports. Industry leaders are well aware of the importance within marketing spheres of having a strong geographical indication and the accompanying heritage, esteem and value that comes with producing whisky, hence why Glenfiddich was keen it fight its corner.

It’s hugely important then, for our brands to have the opportunity to challenge any potential trademark violations but they also have to be mindful of trademark rights when expanding into new countries and launching new products to international markets.

Marks & Clerk, the largest firm of intellectual property advisers in the UK and one of the world’s leading IP firms, highlighted this issue in Scottish Field its commentary last year.

The firm pointed out that as the UK faces leaving the EU, many Scottish drinks manufacturers are focusing on plans to ensure the whisky industry, which contributes nearly £5bn a year to the UK economy, continues to thrive after Brexit.

As well as maintaining EU relationships, this means enhancing Scottish whisky exports in Asia and North America.

Seeking trademark and intellectual property law advice is key to reducing the risk of infringing existing trade mark rights in other jurisdictions.

The Scottish whisky industry is a fascinating area to look at regarding trademark law, but the key principles apply to all Scottish businesses and is something they must be on top of, especially as Brexit looms.

There was talk a few months ago that our best loved brands with protected geographical indication status, including the likes of Stornoway black pudding, Harris Tweed and Arbroath Smokies, may have to fight to safeguard this status.

If a no-deal Brexit occurs, this EU scheme may not apply to our brands any longer, which would put them at risk of copycat products muscling in on the market share.

With the UK facing a general election next month, who knows what the future holds? The direction talks take will very much depend on who ends up in Number 10.

Scottish businesses must be prepared for every potential outcome and IP should be high up the list of their considerations in order to both maintain our heritage and protect our economy.

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A new report has highlighted how important Scotland is to the UK’s music industry. The industry produced £431 million of spending last year along with supporting 4,300 full time jobs.

Festivals such as TRNSMT and Belladrum, as well as the massive Summer Sessions outdoor shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh have really benefitted growth in this sector. We also now have one of the busiest venues in Europe in the amazing SSE Hydro, all of which contributes to the wealth of talented artists being given a platform to perform, resulting in record numbers of paying punters.

Out of the whole of the UK, Scotland saw the strongest growth in music tourists too, rising from 800,000 visitors to 1.1 million – an incredible rise of 38%.

This really shows that our country is at the forefront of leading the music industry as a viable asset to the economy and it is something that brings a real smile to my face

It’s not all good news though, as the report by UK Music did highlight an urgent need for more investment in the industry in Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom. It also warned of an economic risk with the UK potentially losing its place as one of the world’s only exporters of music, while also reducing the amount of home-grown talent that benefit from investment in the industry.

The impact Brexit could have on grassroots UK artists touring throughout Europe is also worrying. UK Music have called for the government to back an EU-wide live music touring passport, allowing artists to avoid any extra fees that may be added to gain entry to EU countries for performances. It won’t just be musicians that will be after that passport if the plans are backed!

Many of us have enjoyed seeing international acts perform right on our doorstep here in Scotland and look on with pride when we see our own making a name for themselves around the world. I hope this continues to be the case for years to come.

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ScotRail got themselves into hot water yet again this week with some very shoddy replies towards customer queries on Twitter.

With a dedicated team helping with inquiries across their social media platforms, quick and helpful customer service responses should be easy.

Unfortunately this week a couple of employees let the standards slip. The workers, who were only identified by their initials, had some short, snappy and very unhelpful responses to customer questions on a new ticketing scheme.

Great service is at the heart of any business that is used regularly by the public. While I imagine it can’t be easy managing the Twitter for ScotRail, there is no excuses for the poor responses from the Scotrail duo this week. Those using the train company’s services  and spending hard-earned cash on travel will expect improved customer service in the future.

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Scottish superstar Lewis Capaldi has done it again with a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year Grammy just as he released his new single Before You Go. The tune, which many are referring to as another banger from the Glasgow-born artist, is sure to be a huge hit for the young singer, but I thought he needed a mention for my laugh section simply because of his unique and hilarious social media antics.

His original Instagram stories and Twitter posts have really connected with the public, helping him to gain global recognition and become ‘America’s Sweetheart’ with a US number one single.

He continued the comical Instagram content with a topless photo to celebrate both his Grammy nomination and one million streams of his new single. While he is up against heavy-hitters in the Grammys such as Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, Lewis is still a winner when it comes to flying the flag for Scotland with his talent and genuine, down-to-earth personality. I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.


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