Elvis Presley versus BrewDog: Are you prepared to change your name to protect the brand?

James Watt and Martin Dickle, the founders of BrewDog, went as far as to change their names to Elvis in order to protect their right for selling Elvis Juice. Conflicting rulings from the court provide valuable implications for the extent of brand protection enabled by a registered trademark.

By

Igor Demcak

Elvis Presley Enterprises, a company that managed the state of the late singer, has challenged the brand name for BrewDog’s best selling beer called “Elvis Juice”. The reasoning was based on the apparent association with the late singer Elvis Presley, arguing that BrewDog’s product infringes upon the good name and reputation. James Watt and Martin Dickie, the founders of BrewDog, have resorted to an unprecedented move, changing their names to Elvis [1]. This approach has allowed them to claim that the beer was in fact named after them, rejecting any associations with Elvis Presley. This unorthodox method has however failed to achieve success for BrewDog, with the initial ruling of the court in the UK ordering BrewDog to rebrand its product [2].

The ruling was however overturned, giving permission to BrewDog to continue the use of its trademark “BrewDog Elvis Juice” [1]. The initial argument was however still viewed as valid for “Elvis Juice”, forcing BrewDog to make slight adaptations to the its brand of a grapefruit and blood orange IPA. The founders of BrewDog viewed this ruling as “the victory for common sense”, with the court arguing that the mere name of Elvis is not sufficient on its own to create consumer confusion and suggest a link between BrewDog Elvis Juice and Elvis Presley [3]. Taking the matter even further, BrewDog celebrated in somewhat extraordinary way by offering free drinks at its bars for any consumers that come dressed as Elvis [3].

Although BrewDog has achieved success in its UK trademark infringement case, the likelihood of confusion was viewed differently by the European Union Intellectual Property Office, effectively preventing the use of “BrewDog Elvis Juice” brand to fuel the company’s expansion across Europe [1].

Overall, while the act of changing the owners’ names to Elvis has been a highly successful public relations stunt, this action has had no impact on the ruling of the intellectual property office. Moreover, this case illustrates a relatively thin line in the considerations of consumer confusion, supporting the rationale for the choice of a distinctive brand name to avoid the trademark infringement issues and costs of rebranding.

[1] French, P. (2020), “BrewDog loses latest trademark battle over Elvis Juice beer”, available from: https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2020/09/brewdog-loses-latest-trademark-battle-over-elvis-juice-beer/

[2] Pomranz, M. (2019), “Elvis Presley estate wins lawsuit over BrewDog’s Elvis Juice Beer”, Food & Wine, available from: https://www.foodandwine.com/news/elvis-presleys-estate-wins-lawsuit-over-brewdogs-elvis-juice-beer

[3] Handley, L. (2018), “Elvis Presley’s estate loses trademark battle over beer brand”, CNBC, available from: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/29/elvis-presleys-estate-loses-trademark-battle-over-brewdog-beer-brand.html

Igor Demcak

Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Filed over 150 trademarks as a trademark attorney

UPJS Kosice

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