Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Beer style row erupts in New Zealand

Heineken Kiwi subsidiary angers
beer lovers over style disputes

A major row has erupted in New Zealand over decisions to trade mark two beer styles -- Radler and Saison -- by DB Breweries. DB was previously known as Dominion Breweries and is now owned by the giant Asia Pacific group, in which Heineken controls more than 40 per cent of the shares.
DB's subsidiary Monteith brews two beers, Monteith Radler and Monteith Saison, that have become the cause of anger among beer lovers. SOBA, the Society of Beer Advocates, a CAMRA-style consumer group, has raised the issue with both Monteith's and the New Zealand government's trade mark authority but DB is standing firm and is using powerful lawyers to defend its case.
DB has even forced a small organic brewery, Green Man of Dunedin, to change the name of its version of Radler as, the big brewery claims, it infringes its trade mark.
Radler was invented by an innkeeper in Austria in the 1920s to refresh thirsty cyclists. Radler means cyclist in German and the beer is a low-strength mix of lager and lemonade -- what is called shandy in Britain. DB launched its version of Radler in 2000 and trade marked the brand two years later. Its lawyers then forced Green Man to change the name of its Radler to "Green Man Cyclist". The irony of the situation is that Green Man's version is a true Radler of 2.5% while Monteith's is twice the strength at 5% and is not a true representation of the Radler style.
DB's decision to trade mark Saison is of greater concern to beer lovers. Saison is a renowned Belgian beer style. In a country where beers from the Dutch-speaking region tend to dominate, French-speaking Walloons feel Saison is their best-known contribution to the world of beer.
Saison means "season". The beer style was first brewed by farmers to refresh their families and workforce during the summer and harvest periods. Before refrigeration was developed in the 19th century, seasonal beers were brewed in the spring and stored during the summer, when temperatures were too high to allow brewing to take place. Belgian saisons are similar to the bieres de gardes -- keeping beers -- brewed over the border in French Flanders.
The renewed interest in Belgian beers in the past 20 or 30 years has brought Saisons to a wider and appreciative audience beyond Wallonia. More than a dozen Belgian brewers now produce Saison. The best-known, Dupont of Tourpes, has been brewing Saison in former farm buildings since 1844 but now cannot export to New Zealand as a result of DB's trade mark.
As SOBA has pointed out, DB has trade marked two beer styles, Radler and Saison, that the brewery did not invent.
Fortunately, big brewers have had less success in Australia, where trade mark legislation is tougher than in New Zealand. Lion Nathan, a subsidiary of Kirin of Japan, has failed in an attempt to trade mark Radler there.


Anonymous Laurent Mousson said...

The NZ intellectual property agency couldn't tell their *rse from their elbow. It's a simple as that.

Saison is a denomination of style, i.e. it is descriptive of the product, therefore, under international trademark law principles, it is not registrable.

I mean: would you expect one cheesemaker to be able to register 'brie' or 'cheddar' as a trademark for his exclusive use ?

25 August 2009 at 14:05  
Blogger Roger Protz said...

Well said, Laurent. The Belgian government should really be active on this issue, talking hard and direct to the NZ government.

25 August 2009 at 15:13  
Blogger Greig McGill said...

Great coverage on this issue, thanks Roger. I'd *love* to see the Belgian government get out the wooden spoon with our lot.

Fear not though, we have pretty good lawyers too in James and Wells, one of NZ's foremost specialist IP law firms, who are so outraged that they have offered we at SOBA their services pro bono.

I'm confident that justice shall prevail.

Greig McGill
Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) Inc.

1 September 2009 at 04:27  
Blogger Johnny Norfolk said...

They are acting just like our government just a big bully.and we know what is going to happen to them. Keep the customer happy i dont think so.

2 September 2009 at 07:54  
Blogger Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Cheers for the coverage Roger.

Just a note, DB do not currently brew anything under the Saison brand, when they did it was a golden lager!

Kieran Haslett-Moore
Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) Inc.

14 September 2009 at 08:03  

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