Alcohol charity ordered to pay brewer after losing Dry January trademark case

23 Apr 2024 News

Alcohol Change UK

The charity that runs the annual alcohol abstention campaign Dry January in the UK has been ordered to pay legal costs to a brewing company after failing to extend its trademark of the term.

Alcohol Change UK (ACUK) registered “Dry January” as a trademark primarily for educational and behavioural change purposes in 2013.

The charity sought to extend its trademark in 2022 to cover sales of products such as low-alcohol beers.

But low-alcohol brewer Big Drop has successfully challenged this attempted trademark extension in a tribunal held by the UK Intellectual Property Office.

The office ordered the charity, which recorded an income of £1.23m last year, to pay the brewing firm £1,850 towards its legal costs.

Case details

The tribunal reads: “The term is apt to signify a period of abstinence from alcohol in January: to have a dry January.

“Use of the words in relation to drinks, the sale of or the provision of which assist that endeavour, would not be seen as a trade mark.”

It ordered Alcohol Change UK to pay £1,850 to the brewing company within 21 days of the expiry of the appeal period or the final determination of the case if an appeal against the decision is unsuccessful.

Charity considering options

Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: “We have been disappointed with recent inaccurate reporting of the case, which makes our continued ownership of the Dry January programme trade mark more challenging for brands to understand – and may have an impact on the money we are able to raise to support people experiencing alcohol harm.

“We will certainly be looking at options for future trade mark filings to continue to protect the Dry January programme which we have invested heavily in over many years to support hundreds of thousands of people transform their relationships with alcohol.

“As a small UK charity, we spend a tiny amount on legal fees to secure the trade mark and there was no court case in this instance.”

Piper added that the charity would “do all we can to protect the programme and its brand from those actors who might be looking to benefit from our brand without our approval”.

Big Drop: Low-alcohol brands ‘pretty much aligned’ with charity’s aims 

Rob Fink, founder of Big Drop, said: “The alcohol-free movement has been driven by innovative start-up brands over the last few years by offering drinkers palatable alternatives for January and beyond.

“A lot of people across the board actually enjoy doing Dry January to give their bodies a much-needed rest while seeking out new alternatives emerging in the drinks world.

“Indeed, 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.

“Many of those brands are pretty much aligned with ACUK on the need for effective work towards reducing alcohol harm so it makes sense to work together and not put up unnecessary barriers.”

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