Radler beer for all, says anti-trademark advocate

BRUCE HOLLOWAY
Last updated 09:12 06/05/2011

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 A big legal case over beer is coming to a head in Auckland this week.

And this ''David and Goliath'' intellectual property fight could be extremely important to New Zealand's future knowledge economy, says the Hamilton businessman at the heart of the dispute.

Ceri Wells, partner at James & Wells Intellectual Property, is this week acting on a pro bono basis for the Society of Beer Advocates (Soba) against DB Breweries' (DB) registration of the beer term ''radler''.

Radler is a generic term for a citrus-flavoured shandy-style beer popular in Europe, North America and Australia.

In New Zealand DB registered the word radler as a trademark in 2003 and subsequently threatened Green Man Brewery in Dunedin with legal action for using it.

Mr Wells has since spent about $60,000 in time and resources in acting for Soba because he believed it was in the public interest that DB's right to monopolise a generic term was tested, and the incorporated society could afford expert legal advice.

The hearing at the Intellectual Property Office in Auckland before assistant commissioner for trademarks Brian Jones is expected to conclude today but with a final decision at least a month away.

Soba is seeking to have DB's radler trademark registration revoked because it believes no company should own the exclusive right to the name of a recognised beer style.

Hundreds of statutory declarations from drinkers have been tabled at the hearing, with Mr Wells required to show DB either acted in bad faith  or sufficient New Zealanders knew radler to be a descriptive style of beer drink  for the word not to qualify as a trademark.

He also needs to prove that after the registration of radler, the word became a generic term because it was used to promote the idea that this was a beer style rather than a brand.

Mr Wells said the case had become something of a personal crusade.

''If companies are able to get away with misusing intellectual property in New Zealand, businesses will lose respect for the whole system,'' he said. ''And if that happens they won't use it.

''New Zealand has to start ensuring it owns its creations and invention, otherwise people will just get away with copying everything. New Zealanders are appalling at owning what is theirs.

''If we want to be a knowledge economy it is all about intellectual property.'' Mr Wells' evidence showed many Kiwis came in contact with radler through travelling overseas or as migrants to New Zealand.

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''There was a significant pool of people in New Zealand who knew what a real radler was before DB released theirs. I'm quietly confident the facts will go our way but there are a lot of technicalities we could get stuffed up on. There are a lot of curve balls.'' While James & Wells Intellectual Property has a bigger office in Auckland, it began as a Hamilton company and employs 28 people here.

DB said it would await a decision before commenting but in the hearing had argued that while radler might had been a generic term overseas, it was not known as a generic term in New Zealand at the time it applied to register radler as a trademark.

It trademarked radler in 2003 in recognition of the financial investment it had made in the Monteith's radler brand at that time.

- Waikato Times

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