In particular, supermarkets and larger drinks companies are introducing their own craft-style products, capitalizing on the popularity of the sector. Meanwhile, the number of independent craft breweries and products has continued to increase.
London headquartered law firm RPC has charted the rise in beer trade mark registrations, using data from the Intellectual Property Office. In 2007, there were 968 registrations; by 2015 this had risen to 1,666, and in 2016 this reached 1,983.
However, with the rise of products in the market, the number of trade mark disputes are also likely to rise, predicts RPC.
Last year 520 new breweries opened in the UK, up 33% from the previous year of 336 new openings.
While new entrants bring new products, established craft breweries are also continuing to expand and release new product lines.
The success of craft brewers – such as Camden Town Brewery, which was acquired by AB InBev in Decmber 2015 – is also helping to inspire budding brewing entrepreneurs, says RPC.
Meanwhile, supermarkets are latching onto the sector’s popularity.
“Supermarkets are both throwing open their shelves to new small scale beer brands and creating their own craft beer which is often white labeled products from independent breweries,” explained Jeremy Drew, commercial partner, RPC.
“For example, in May 2017 ALDI announced that it was adding 16 new bottles to its craft beer range, whilst Marks and Spencer works with craft beer retailer Real Ale to source a range of beer from smaller brewers nationally for its stores.”
Other supermarkets such as Tesco, Waitrose and the Co-Op have all announced expanded craft beer ranges on their shelves this year.
Disputes likely to rise
Drew says that with more players in the market it is increasingly important for brewers to protect their intellectual property.
“The craft beer sector has been booming - and now there are not only a number of new entrants, but also more established breweries, larger drinks corporations and supermarkets all wanting to establish a share in the market.
Recent high profile trade mark disputes
“Brewdog, the Scottish craft beer company issued a legal warning against a pub in Birmingham to prevent the pub being named ‘Lone Wolf’, the same name as one of the company’s products - Brewdog has since apparently rescinded the warning.
“Scottish Brewery, Tempest Brewing Co, recently announced that it would be renaming its popular Bomber IPA beer following a trademark dispute with a larger English brewery.”
“This is an innovative area of the market as well as a fast growing one. Craft beer brands are often prized by consumers for their unique methods of brewing or the original ingredients used.
"However, much of this does not lend itself to protection by registration and so the brand name and look of the packaging takes on much more significance in terms of protecting advantage at the point of sale.”
He warns that with the increase in trade marks comes the likelihood of an increase in copycat / brand conflict disputes.
“The nature of the craft beer market presents certain IP challenges,” he said.
“Rather than one flagship brand, consumers seem to be interested in a range of more differentiated products and brands - but this means a greater chance of similar brands clashing.
“Legal disputes can be costly and disruptive so it is sensible for businesses to ensure they are protecting themselves from the outset but also being sensible about what fights they choose to take on.”