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Alcohol Change UK loses bid to ban use of ‘Dry January’

An intellectual property tribunal has rejected an application from Alcohol Change UK to stop brands from using the phrase ‘Dry January’.

Following a number of “cease and desist” letters sent out to booze brands by the charity Alcohol Change UK ordering companies to stop using the term Dry January, a tribunal has ruled that the phrase can legally be used by other parties.

Judge Judy Pike ruled that it was “reasonable to assume other traders will use the words in marketing a promotion for their drinks”.

A trademark was first registered for the term Dry January by Alcohol Change UK in 2014, but in 2022 an attempt was made by the anti-alcohol charity to extend the rules of the trademark to prohibit any brands (including no-and-low brands) from using the phrase in a context related to selling drinks.

However, after receiving one of the charity’s “cease and desist” letters, alcohol-free beer maker Big Drop Brewing contested the order and the UK Intellectual Property Office has now ruled that anyone can use the phrase in certain contexts.

Big Drop successfully argued that preventing no-and-low brands from using the term Dry January would likely hinder the charity’s goal of reducing alcohol harm. The brewer also claimed that the use of the term Dry January had become “generic within the low and no-alcohol sector”.

“Many of those brands are pretty much aligned with Alcohol Change UK on the need for effective work towards reducing alcohol harm so it makes sense to work together and not put up unnecessary barriers,” said Big Drop founder Rob Fink.

Alcohol Change UK has been ordered to pay a contribution of £1,850 towards Big Drop’s legal costs.

While the ruling allows brands to use the phrase Dry January in marketing materials, they could still find themselves in hot water if they were to incorporate the term into the name of a product, claims Alcohol Change UK.

“Any company that chose to name a product ‘Dry January pale ale or whatever’ would almost certainly be seen to be passing off our trade mark and would still be very likely committing a trade mark breach,” said Dr. Richard Piper, chief executive, Alcohol Change UK.

“We’re very comfortable that the recent ruling makes no material difference to the position.”

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