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Disputes over trade marks hit record high of 3,600 – up 21% last year

Published on 03 February 2020

The number of challenges to trade mark applications hit a record high of 3,611 last year*, a rise of 21% from the 2,983 filed in the previous year, says City-headquartered law firm, RPC.

  • Launch of new vegan food and low-alcohol drinks brands sees opposition from incumbents.

RPC says that the number of disputes over trade marks is a result of businesses having to file more trade marks to keep up with the consumers’ almost insatiable demand for new product variations. 

Growth in the low and no-alcohol versions of drinks and vegan, vegetarian and other “free-from” versions of foods have led to a surge in related trade mark registrations and disputes. An analysis of trade mark dispute decisions shows approximately 28% were related to food and drink products last year**.

The more trade marks filed, the greater the chance that new applications will conflict with existing trade marks.

The number of new trade marks registered with the IPO has risen by 10% to 57,633 in the last year from 52,383 the year before*.

Businesses are rushing to launch new products in the ‘free from’ market in response to rising consumer demand for healthier products. The UK’s ‘free-from’ market was valued at £837m last year***, while a quarter of Britons aged 16-24-year-olds now do not drink alcohol****.

RPC’s Head of Food & Drink, Ciara Cullen, says “The free-from market is growing fast as more consumers turn to healthier products. It is not just millennials that are switching to vegan and alcohol free products.”

“These are potentially huge and high margin categories and that creates a highly competitive land grab. Disputes over trade marks are an obvious result of clashes between many different companies trying to build their stake in these markets.”

Examples of challenges to trade marks relating to healthy food and drinks include:

  • Gluten-free bread company LO-DOUGH challenged the application of brand NO DOUGH, a pizza company, arguing the similarity of the name may confuse consumers 
  • The Prosecco Consortium stopped alcohol-free sparkling wine brand NOSECCO’s trade mark application. The opposition argued the term ‘prosecco’ cannot be used to market products not made with grapes from a specific Italian region
  • Nix&Kix Ltd challenged an existing trade mark owned by NIX claiming it had been unused for five years. Nix&Kix Ltd were ultimately allowed to use this mark for alcohol-free and reduced-alcohol beer

Ben Mark, IP Partner at RPC, says “Surging trade mark applications has driven the number of disputes to a level not seen before.”

“Businesses are increasingly on the lookout for trade marks that may conflict with their existing registrations and are ready to lodge a challenge with the IPO. Filing a trade mark is a key part of building a distinctive brand – businesses are increasingly aware of this.”

The number of challenges made to trade mark applications rose by 21% last year

Graph showing steady increase of trade mark applications from 2010 to 2018

*Source IPO: year end 31 December 2018
**Sample of 100 IPO Trade Mark Hearing Officer Decisions in 2019
***Source: UK Free-From Foods Market Report 2018
****Source: Club Soda