Products from no-alcohol prosecco to gluten-free pizza are increasingly at the centre of trademark disputes as companies step up efforts to woo health-conscious consumers.
Vegan and plant-based consumer goods accounted for a growing proportion of the UK’s copyright battles in 2019 compared with the previous two years.
A sample of 100 resolved trademark disputes taken from the Intellectual Property Office and analysed by law firm RPC showed food and drink disputes rose from 2 per cent of trademark disputes in 2017 and 2018 to some 8 per cent in 2019.
Cases included gluten-free bread company Lo-Dough failing in its attempt to oppose pizza company No Dough. The former argued last year that the similarity of the company names would confuse consumers.
A consortium of Italian prosecco producers in 2019 prevented alcohol-free brand Nosecco’s trademark from being approved, successfully arguing that the drink they made enjoyed a protected name for products made with grapes from a specific region.
Factors driving a boom in alternative products include a growing trend for teetotalism in the UK. An Office for National Statistics study in 2017 revealed a drop in those aged over 16 who had drunk alcohol in the week before being interviewed, from almost 65 per cent in 2005 to 56.9 per cent.
Meanwhile consumers eschewing meat for health and environmental reasons have helped the rise of the Greggs’ vegan sausage roll and resulted in Nestlé targeting $1bn in plant-based products within a decade.
Other battles in the UK in 2019 included a showdown between alcohol-free drink company Nix & Kix and the holder of the trademark NIX. Nix & Kix was granted the use of trademark NIX, but only for alcohol-free and reduced-alcohol beer.
The number of trademarks registered in total is also on the rise according to Intellectual Property Office data. In 2018 some 57,633 trademarks were registered, up from 52,383 the previous year.
Meanwhile the total number of trademark disputes hit a record high of 3,611 in 2018, according to the most recent data filed with the Intellectual Property Office.
RPC’s head of food and drink, Ciara Cullen, said: “The ‘free-from’ market is growing fast as more consumers turn to healthier products. It is not just millennials that are switching to vegan and alcohol-free products.
“These are potentially huge and high-margin categories and that creates a highly competitive land grab. Disputes over trademarks are an obvious result of clashes between many different companies trying to build their stake in these markets.”