How the Scotts protect their whisky

Agricultural products, wines, spirits and food in general can have protected Geographical Indications (sui generis intellectual property rights). This means that only goods produced in that geographical area are legally allowed to use the geographical location in their name. Some famous examples are Parma Ham, Cheddar cheese, Scotch Whisky and Champagne.

However, having this GI protection does not always protect a brand from infringement. In 2015 the reputation of Scotch Whisky came under threat when it was discovered that, Anhui Guangyu Packaging Technology Company Ltd was printing “Scotch Whisky” on bottle tops to be used on bottles of  imitation Scotch Whisky sold in Myanmar. However, the Scotch Whisky Association immediately sued the Chinese firm and the Chinese court ruled in the association's favour.

Whisky is Scotland’s main export and according to the SWA, last year it drove in a profit of approximately £4 billion and it accounts for approximately 25% of UK beverages and foodstuffs that are exported. However, in order to protect their geographical indication for their product, the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) has to constantly police the market for any potential infringement cases and enforce their trademark rights, sometimes aggressively, when necessary.

The SWA, (originally founded in 1912 as the Wine & Spirit Brand Association), is a voluntary organisation that strives to protect and promote the Scotch Whisky Industry. They have their own lawyers who are constantly tackling infringement cases in order to prevent the original  spirit’s name from being tarnished by imitations and unlike some big corporates, they have never lost a battle. In fact, it is their zero tolerance attitude that has made them so successful.

Many countries around the world as well as the EU have their own laws protecting the Scottish spirit, making the job of protecting the legacy a lot easier for the SWA. For example in US law it is described as  “a distinctive product of Scotland manufactured in Scotland in compliance with the laws of the United Kingdom”.

However, not all goods with geographical indicators have been protected. Halloumi is a cheese made from a combination of goat’s and sheep’s milk that originates from the greek island of Cyprus. However, in 2013 when the Republic of Cyprus applied for European trademarks for both HALLOUMI and XAΛΛOYMI,specifically for cheese, milk and milk products, their application was rejected on the grounds that their product was not distinct enough since their trademark was describing a speciality cheese of the region. Despite this initial setback, the EU has now stepped forward to protect the GI of the cheese and has already published an application for the name. However, at this moment in time the Greek cheese is at risk of infringement with no legal rights to act upon it meaning that anyone can produce a cheese and sell it as “Halloumi”.

The best way to protect your company’s reputation, brand value and profits in today’s global marketplace is by registering a trademark and gaining trademark enforcement rights. However, just having the trademark is not enough. Like the Scotch Whisky Association you would also need to police your market for potential infringements and then be prepared to act on them when they do arise.

For advice and more information on searching, acquiring, registering and enforcing Trademarks please visit our website,
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