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Big Drop gave examples where it and other brands had used the term prior to Alcohol Change’s attempt to trademark it

Big Drop Brewing Co has successfully challenged an attempt by Alcohol Change UK to extend its ownership of the trademark ‘Dry January’.

The trademark for the term Dry January was first registered by Alcohol Research UK (now known as Alcohol Change UK) in 2014 to support its science-based resources for harmful and hazardous drinkers.

However, in 2022 the charity sought to extend the trademark in new areas of products and services, covering classes 6, 9, 14, 18, 21, 28, 29, 30, 32, 35 and 43.

This was partially challenged by Big Drop founder Rob Fink in respect of class 30 (covering coffee, tea and cocoa), class 32 (covering non-alcoholic drinks), parts of class 35 (covering advertising and promotion in relation to beverages) and class 43 (covering services for the provision of food and drink).

In his challenge, Fink argued this would “unduly monopolise” the term Dry January, leaving dedicated alcohol-free producers unable to use it to promote their drinks.

He presented evidence including social media posts that he said showed the term ‘Dry January’ had become “generic within the low and no-alcohol sector”, with consumers describing abstaining from alcohol as a “dry spell”.

Alcohol Change UK’s CEO Richard Piper disputed this characterisation, and said the charity was unaware of some of what it described as “unauthorised use” of its trademark. He said Alcohol Change had “coined the term and has invested significantly in its promotion for over a decade, also policing its use and licencing it to others”.

Judge Judy Pike ruled that, although the application by Alcohol Change UK was not made in bad faith, it was “reasonable to assume other traders will use the words in marketing a promotion for their drinks”.

Assessing the evidence presented by Big Drop, which predated Alcohol Change UK’s attempt to trademark Dry January, she said the charity had failed to acquire the “distinctiveness through use” needed to justify the extension into the categories challenged by Big Drop.

She ordered Alcohol Change UK to pay a contribution of £1,850 towards Fink’s legal costs.

“High-quality alcohol-free drinks give people a reason to go and support the hospitality industry in January and reward retailers who go large on their seasonal displays,” Fink said. “Many brands are pretty much aligned with Alcohol Change UK on the need for effective work towards reducing alcohol harm, so it makes sense to work together and not put up unnecessary barriers.”

Piper told The Grocer Alcohol Change UK would “continue to enforce our trademark rights against unauthorised third parties who apply the Dry January trademark” in relation to categories in which it owned the mark.

He emphasised Alcohol Change UK continued to own the trademark for the term under classes 6, 9, 14, 18, 21, 28, 29 and for “most of the services in class 35”.

“Any company wishing to use Dry January as the name of an alcohol-abstaining programme should first seek permission to do so,” he said. “Official partners to the Alcohol Change UK Dry January programme have the right to use the name and we positively welcome conversations with any non-alcoholic brand that wants to explore joining us as a partner.”