Storm in a beer mug shows the trouble with trademarks

So, DB has trademarked the beer name “Radler” for its Monteith’s brand, to the despair of independent brewers who say “Radler” is a style of beer, not a brand, and shouldn’t be owned by a beverage behemoth. It’s a battle begging comparison to David and Goliath, but then it seems so many trademark cases are. Here’s our pick of the persnickety trademark bunch ©.

In yesterday’s decision, “Radler”, which means ‘cyclist’ in German and was developed as a style of beer to quench the thirst of cyclists by diluting the alcohol content with lemonade so they were still able to ride their bikes home, is used in the same way as pilsner, another beer style, on beer brands all over Germany and throughout the world. But here in New Zealand it’s now trademarked as a DB brand. Pish tosh.

What’s more, any lederhosen-clad pedalling German will tell you that what Monteith’s is pumping out isn’t even formulated like the real deal Radler, as it is five percent alcohol content, not the regular two. Shame on our name.

Other classic trademark stoushes:

  • Be careful where you put that colouring-in pen, because Cadbury owns that colour purple. Various smaller confectionery brands have tried their luck with the suspiciously tempting tone, falling victim to the chocolate giant.
  • In the EU feta is only feta if it’s from certain parts of Greece; same goes for Italy’s Parma ham, and what you’ve got in your glass isn’t champagne unless it’s from the province, darling.
  • It is even possible to register olfactory trademarks. Yup, that stench wafting through your office right now, it’s possible that it’s not organic, it’s owned. One of the first successful smelly trademark cases in the UK was won by rubber tyre company Sumitomo Rubber Co., which registered “a floral fragrance/smell reminiscent of roses as applied to tyres”. This really begs the question of whether anyone else would bother trying to make their tyres smell like roses, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Burger King in Australia was forced to brand itself Hungry Jack’s because the name was already trademarked by a takeaway store in Adelaide, making it a rare stroke on the scoreboard for the underdog.
  • Usually in trademark cases it’s the small independent that loses out. Ridiculous cases have seen Kiwi underdogs get the chop, too, albeit with some sarky Kiwi class. A west coast hotel, ‘Formerly the Blackball Hilton’, was forced to fiddle its name after the global Hilton hotel chain muscled up.
  • When fashion designer Trelise Cooper filed a case against Arrowtown accessory designer Tamsin Cooper, it was a case of thou shalt not use thine own name. Business owners in her hometown doctored their own signage, adding ‘Cooper’ to the end of their business names in support. Trelise Cooper later dropped the case.

You might still be able to call a spade a spade, but who knows what might keep the doctor away if Apple starts playing the trademark game.

Know any more? Float ’em down the comment stream.

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