Our Commercial Disputes Solicitor, Nick Lewis, discusses effective brand protection and the importance of lawyers acting on client’s instructions.

In 2007, the self-styled “punk-brewery” BrewDog was founded in Fraserburgh by two friends who “were bored of the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK beer market”. The company and its founders have attracted a lot of attention for being outspoken against large multinational beer companies who try to bully smaller craft brewers.

The Scottish-based brewer has enjoyed exponential growth since 2007 – so much so that in 2015 it launched its own equity crowdfunding scheme, “Equity For Punks”, which has since been extended to the US. Despite its growth, BrewDog has tried to keep itself grounded by continuing to be outspoken and supporting the underdog.

However, it has recently been accused of deploying the same tactics of which it has been so critical – bullying the underdog.

The owners of the family run Wolf pub in Birmingham intended to rename the popular drinking-hole “The Lone Wolf”. Unfortunately, they had to reconsider this plan after receiving a letter from BrewDog’s lawyers alleging infringement of its “LONE WOLF” trademark. BrewDog had registered this mark in February 2016 in anticipation of using it to promote its expansion into the spirit market. The letter demanded that the pub cease using its new name.

Unsurprisingly – given the attention BrewDog and its founders have attracted for being so outspoken against this sort of action – reports started to surface in the media commenting on the brewer’s actions and how these appeared to contradict its well-publicised values. Cue the social media onslaught of criticism from craft beer fans, BrewDog customers and even investors in Equity for Punks accusing the “punk” brewer of abusing its position by suppressing small, independent companies with legal threats.

This seemed to strike a chord with one of its founders, James Watt, who quickly took to Twitter to explain that the company’s lawyers “got a bit trigger happy” and that BrewDog is “happy for the Lone Wolf Bar in Birmingham to keep using the name”. He added in a separate statement that “lawyers can sometimes go a bit crazy and forget the kind of business we are and how we behave”. These statements suggest that BrewDog’s lawyers wrote their heavy-handed letter without first seeking instruction from its client. If that is the case, BrewDog has every reason to be aggrieved by what has been an embarrassing episode for them. At the very least, it illustrates the importance of balancing effective brand protection and enforcement with overall reputation management.