The UK food and drinks industry is enjoying a renaissance. In the last few years, thanks in part to industry initiatives, government help and a desire for provenance, there has been a significant increase in the number of start-up businesses within the sector and an explosion in new trade mark registrations for food & drink products. But the opportunity to grow and expand a business also means that there are new challenges and hurdles to overcome, like protecting new brands and technology whilst dealing with risks posed by competitors IPR’s (Intellectual Property Rights).

The considerable sums spent each year on R&D within the food & drink sector, whether on food science, production processes or packaging solutions, to drive innovation and strategic advantage requires adequate protection. Investment in R&D needs to be protected through an appropriate cost-effective investment in intellectual property, whether that is through patents, registered designs, registered trade marks, or keeping know-how confidential.

For start-up businesses patents and trade marks are really important to future growth, but often the owners are preoccupied with operational issues and fail to understand the significance until it is too late. This is a weakness that is often exploited by investors at the due diligence stage when capital for expansion is being sought, or at a later stage when an exit is being pursued.

Our experience

GJE offers an integrated approach to the commercial management of intellectual property. Our patent and trade mark attorneys have many years’ experience working with well-known food & drink clients developing effective IP strategies. In particular:

  • patent drafting and freedom to operate analysis in the fields of food science, processes & production and packaging
  • being vigilant about third-party patent rights, filing oppositions against third-party patents and defending patents against oppositions
  • brand clearance and registration
  • policing rights, e.g. opposing third party brand applications and conflicting use
  • domain name disputes
  • anti-counterfeiting strategy including customs recordals.

A classic example of innovation and the influence of effective IP protection is the ‘widget’ used in beer cans for creating a foamed head on beer. This established a huge consumer market for canned beer for the companies that owned or licensed the technology. We have acted in relation to a famous brewer’s widget, identifying and patenting innovative improvements to the product.

Dealing with the risks of weak patents

The statistics of the European Patent office show that in the technical field of food chemistry a relatively high proportion of granted patents are opposed compared to other consumer goods and other chemical fields. GJE has extensive experience of defending and filing oppositions and have used these skills in opposition proceedings to defend and strengthen our clients’ patents in the food industry.

We have also helped clients clear the way for their own commercialisation by challenging their competitors’ weak patents using opposition proceedings. Our success rate in acting for patent owners and opponents is outstanding. See here for more information on our patent opposition practice.

A recent example of the value we provide is demonstrated by the work undertaken helping an SME enter the nutraceutical market. We helped establish a valuable patent portfolio and investigated its freedom to exploit its technology in a range of food products in collaboration with a food manufacturer. During the project it was necessary to defend some of the patents against oppositions filed by a multinational corporation. We also helped our client develop products which worked around the scope of claims in third party patents we assessed to be strong.

Proactively defending your brands

In 2015 EU customs authorities detained over 40 million items suspected of violating intellectual property rights with an estimated value of €642 million for the equivalent genuine products. Food and alcoholic beverages account for a significant proportion of this illegal trade.

We work with agencies on behalf of our clients to identify the sale of fake goods, either being sold online or through other channels. We also record our clients’ intellectual property rights with customs so that we are notified of potential counterfeit goods to facilitate the early destruction of those counterfeits.

We know from experience that the education of staff and customers can be a way of empowering them to become the eyes and ears of an organisation. To that end, the provision of clear reporting procedures can be a means by which an effective early warning system is established against counterfeit goods. We also seek to inform clients on other potential issues or problems that can occur, for example the growing threat of trade mark squatters. In doing so, decisions can be taken at an early stage that potentially mitigate such risks. Clearance searches can play a key role here and are something we typically advise our clients to consider.

If you would like to know more about our knowledge in this area and how intellectual property rights can benefit your business then please get in touch. We welcome enquiries and will be delighted to explain in more detail why you should consider GJE for your IP needs.

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