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World Gin Day: the IP accompanying the tipple

06-06-2017

This year's World Gin Day is on Saturday 10 June with events planned around the world. Novagraaf’s Claire Jones examines the rise of the popular beverage.

Gin has had many names and figured in many trends over the centuries: from its roots in herbal medicine during the Middle Ages and ‘Dutch courage’ for English soldiers in the 16th century, to the Gin Craze of the 18th century,  and the masking of anti-malarial quinine compounds in tropical colonies, not to mention the Prohibition-era ‘bathtub gins’ and ‘mother’s ruin’.

Recently, the popularity of gin has risen sharply. In 2010, there were only 116 distilleries across the United Kingdom. In 2015, this number had nearly doubled to 233; 2015 also saw £400 million being spent on gin in Britain’s shops and the number is soaring each year, showing that gin is having somewhat of a renaissance (or as many internet users are calling it: a ginaissance).

Qualifying as 'gin'
In the EU, there are four official categories of gin:

  • Juniper-flavoured spirit drinkscan be sold under the names Wacholder or Genebra (umbrella terms which are nods to their historically regional terms) and are produced by pot distilling a fermented grain mash and then redistilling with botanicals to extract the aromatic compounds. The finished product must be bottled at a minimum of 30% ABV.
  • Gina juniper-flavoured spirit made by simply adding natural flavouring substances to a base neutral gin spirit. The predominant flavour must be juniper and a small amount of sweetening can be added after distillation. Minimum strength must be 37.5% ABV.
  • Distilled gin produced exclusively by redistilling ethanol of agricultural origin to a initial strength of 96% ABV and adding juniper berries and other natural botanicals in the still. Again, predominant flavour must be juniper and have a minimum strength of 37.5% ABV.
  • London Ginproduced using the same distilling process as distilled gin (although with a higher quality ethyl alcohol), the differentiating factor is that natural flavours can be added at the re-distillation stage and no sweetening is permitted. In addition, London Gin cannot be coloured.

Did you know? 
The Philippines is the world’s largest gin market. The market is dominated almost entirely by domestically produced spirits.

IP considerations
There are wide range of branding issues around gin products and distilleries, from trademarks and domain names, to social media usage, design registrations, trade secrets and licensing issues.

Trademarks
Clearance searches should be undertaken for a new brand prior to launch to ensure that there are no other brands using the same or a confusingly similar name. And not only for gin: there can be issues if another spirit or alcoholic drink producer is using a similar brand.

Trademarks should then be registered in key territories of use to protect the brand. This is not only important in those markets in which the brand will sell, but potential future markets and those in which fakes or counterfeits can be an issue.

Keep in mind:

  • Descriptiveness: if your proposed brand describes anything about the product, or where it is produced, there is the potential for an objection to be raised at trademark offices. Such marks are often attractive to brand owners as they immediately tell customers something about the product, for example, where it comes from, what it tastes like. However, the strongest trademark protection will come from those marks which are either coined or have no connection to the products. A unique mark will not only be registerable, but less likely to infringe the rights of third parties.
  • Translations: while in your home territory a foreign name may be acceptable and distinctive, the mark will be translated by the relevant trademark office and, if it the mark appears to be descriptive or be identical to an existing right, this will cause issues.

Designs
Mainly to protect the bottle design. With the increase in popularity of gin, so has the competition to stand out on a shelf. Traditionally, the standard colour for a gin bottle was green. The growth of ‘premium’ gins has sparked a plethora of different bottle designs (examples below). Even if the traditional green is kept, bottle design has become more and more creative.  

If the bottle design is unusual, consideration should be given to registering the design as either a UK or EU registered design


Trade secrets
Recipes for new gin products are unlikely to obtain patent protection as there is no significant new or inventive step being used, especially with the strict regulations on the distilling of spirits, including gin.

Trade secrets would therefore seem the most appropriate method by which to protect a recipe, much in the same way as Coca-Cola and KFC protect their recipes. Under a trade secret, specific information on the recipe should remain confidential and only be given to those recipients who are aware of the specific obligations of confidentiality.

Social media
Social media platforms are a fantastic marketing tool for brand development and recognition, interacting with customers, generating sales and generally raising the profile of the brand. However, as with all internet platforms, they need to be constantly reviewed and monitored to ensure that the brand is being exposed in the way intended whilst encouraging sharing and interaction. In addition, brands should bear in mind regulatory issues and responsible drinking.

Have a G&T on World Gin Day:

  • Tonic is key: Use a decent quality tonic such as Fever-Tree or 1724. The tonic should also be very carbonated, so small bottles are ideal.
  • Balance: This can vary from brand to brand depending on the strength, but the rule of thumb is one part gin to two parts tonic.
  • Glass: Traditionally served in a highball glass with lots of ice, the current trend is for a wide balloon glass to expand the surface area and allow more bubbles to the surface, allowing more appreciation for the aromas.
  • Ice: And plenty of it.
  • Garnishes: Gone are the days of simply adding a lemon slice to your Gordon’s and Britvic. Match your garnish to the specific or highlighted botanicals in the gin. Garnishes have become creative!  Cucumber added to Hendrick’s, chilli to Opihr and grapefruit to Tanqueray.
Claire Jones is a trademark attorney in the London office of Novagraaf