Saturday, December 3, 2011

CT Column 27/07/2011: Radler shouldn’t be a trademark

Radler is a style of German beer. It is Germany’s answer to the English shandy, and was originally a blend of lemonade and lager developed for German cyclists who didn’t want to drink full strength beer for fear of falling off their bikes. In 2003 DB was granted a trademark on the term Radler by the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand, known as IPONZ. The beer that is sold under the Monteith’s Radler name is in fact a full strength lager with a dose of lime flavouring rather than a diluted low strength beer. New Zealand was left in a situation where the only beer that could be sold as a Radler was in fact not true to the Radler style! In 2008 the Green Man Brewery launched a beer called Radler and DB protected its trademark and forced the beer to be renamed. The next year consumer group the Society of Beer Advocates, known as SOBA, launched an action to have the trademark revoked on the basis that it was a beer style, and that IPONZ had been incorrect to register the trademark in the first place.
A fortnight ago IPONZ ruled that IPONZ was correct in granting Dominion Breweries the Radler trademark as there was insufficient evidence that Kiwis knew what a Radler was in 2003. A cynic might say that a case where the judge, jury and defendant are one and the same has a predetermined outcome!
I think that the trade marking of beer styles is not only wrong morally but is also potentially counterproductive to the industry as a whole. Imagine if one winery had owned the exclusive rights to the word Sauvignon Blanc for the last 35 years? Would Kiwi’s have known what a Sauvignon Blanc was in the mid 1970’s? Where would that industry be now?
It’s not only Kiwi consumers and intellectual property lawyers who are up in arms about the ruling, the Federation of German Brewers are up in arms as well. NZ Beer Blogger Martin Craig summed it up when he wrote that it is the equivalent of a German company trade marking the word Hangi because German’s don’t know what a Hangi is, and then using it to sell Kangaroo Burgers. That would be wrong, just as IPONZ ruling was wrong.
Kieran Haslett-Moore is a founding member of SOBA and a former committee member, writing his own opinion.

No comments: