Scottish whisky sector demands the protection of whisky as intellectual property

The Scottish whisky industry has called for intellectual property protections as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

Scottish whisky sector demands the protection of whisky as intellectual property

Lindesay Low, deputy legal director of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), speaking at the event.

Lindesay Low, deputy legal director of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), told an event hosted by Lawrie IP that the Scottish whisky industry needed clearer direction to prepare for Brexit.

The event marked the recent move by Lawrie IP to its new head office at 310 St Vincent Street, Glasgow – formerly Whyte & Mackay’s global headquarters. The relocation to the new office from its original base at Pacific Quay is to accommodate team expansion following numerous client wins.

Sharon Mackison, director at Lawrie IP and a chartered trade mark and design attorney, introduced the event.

She said: “We advise all types of clients on all forms of intellectual property (IP). Over the years we’ve developed a portfolio of clients across the food and drink industry. We have been particularly busy on the trade mark side in the drinks industry. So, we thought what better topic for our first event in our new office than Scotch whisky.”

At the event, Mr Low highlighted the need for the legal protection of Scotland’s national drink. He covered the possible impact of Brexit on intellectual property and emphasised the need to maintain the status of Scotch whisky as a geographical indication (GI) – a product that must be made in Scotland from water, cereals and yeast and matured in oak barrels for at least three years.

He said: “With the EU being the largest trading bloc for Scotch whisky, Brexit is a matter for concern. But I think the situation for Scotch if the UK leaves the EU, regardless of what happens, is not going to be as desperate as some commentators might say. We have been assured by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that it has a UK system of GIs ready to go as soon as we leave the EU. That will make sure we’re protected.”

He added: “In the EU, we have to remember that Scotch whisky and other food products already have a registered right that protects EU consumers from fraud. The European Commission would have to actively take away that right and we feel that is very unlikely.

“The possible slight complication is that, in many overseas markets around the world, we gain access and protection through agreements between the EU and those countries. That is something we’re monitoring very carefully. If we drop out of the EU, we’ll also drop out of those agreements. However, the Department of International Trade is gradually filling in the gaps by signing continuity agreements. We’re getting there.

“Our message to the UK government is clear – we urge politicians to find a way forward and give the industry certainty. The industry is robust; we will deal with it.”

Lawrie IP has estimated that in the case of a no-deal Brexit, the action that may need to be taken to ensure businesses across all sectors continue to have UK coverage for their EU trademarks could cost more than £500 million,  around £50m for British companies.

This is because pending EU trademarks, of which there are almost 340,000, will not have legal effect in Britain, and trade mark applicants will have to reapply. This is expected to cost over £350m, and more than £35m for British businesses.

Speaking about the success of Scotch whisky and its importance to the UK economy, Mr Low said Scotch whisky has come to be a global export industry from humble beginnings over 500 years ago. Exports of Scotch were worth a record £4.7 billion in 2018.

He said: “In looking at what has made Scotch so successful, there is one thing I think I would like to make sure is not ignored. That is the IP aspect, with many Scotch whiskies becoming international brands.”

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