The two founders of craft beer company BrewDog have both changed their first names to ‘Elvis’ after receiving a legal letter from Elvis Presley’s estate. The cease and desist letter was sent in response to BrewDog’s retail of ‘Elvis Juice’ beer, which the estate claimed infringed Presley’s trade marks.
Whilst BrewDog’s use may seem unrelated to Presley’s interests, the estate will no doubt be keen to prevent dilution of the Elvis brand. Presley’s estate owns trade mark registrations for the word ELVIS for a variety of goods and services, and would likely bring an infringement claim on the basis that BrewDog are taking unfair advantage of, or causing damage to, the ELVIS brand.
The co-founders’ response of changing their names might be a humorous reply, but it’s unlikely to provide them with an own name defence to trade mark infringement proceedings. This is because the use must be in accordance with “honest practices” and in relation to a trading (i.e. company) name (see the Cipriani case here). In this case, their trading name still remains as BrewDog and the change of their personal names was only made after receiving the cease and desist correspondence, calling the adoption of the name into question.
Despite the Presley estate’s upper hand on paper, this case illustrates the increasing power that social media and consumer opinion have in leveling out the commercial playing field. It also serves as a reminder of the tension that can exist between big brand owners looking to protect their brand value and newer entrants looking to grow their business. Often, taking a commercial, and less aggressive, approach to a legal matter can ultimately yield better results for brand owners.
Presley’s estate has also opposed BrewDog’s UK trade mark applications (here and here) for ELVIS JUICE and BREWDOG ELVIS JUICE. It now remains to be seen whether the parties will settle the dispute outside of the tribunals or courts…watch this space for further updates!
Stobbs advises a number of clients (big and small) in relation to matters concerning such matters as trade mark disputes, licensing and merchandising rights. Feel free to give us a call to discuss any intellectual property issues that you might have.