Brugges Beer Battle

04 July 2019

An application of the trademark BRUGSE BEER caused quite a stir in beer country: this application was faced with not one but two oppositions. The first opposition was based on the trademark BRUGS from the Alken-Maes Brewery. The second was filed based on the trademark Brugse Zot from brewery De Halve Maan.

With beer brands it regularly happens that the geographical origin is a prominent part of the brand, such as Hoegaarden and Gulpener Pilsner (Hoegaarden and Gulpen are Dutch villages/cities). The question is to what extent someone can claim the place name through trademark law. In the case of Bruges, can the brewers monopolize Brugse and Brugs (Brugs(s) means something from Bruges)?

No, according to the Benelux Trademarks Office. “The element ‘Brugse’ in the invoked mark is descriptive of the goods in question, which relate to beer, because it indicates the (geographical) origin of the goods, namely that the beer is brewed in (the surroundings) of the city Bruges.” The consumer will generally not focus on a descriptive element distinctive in the overall impression of the trademark. In other words, BRUGSE will not remain in the consumer’s mind, but ZOT and BEER will (beer means a bear in Dutch). The opposition on the basis of the trademark Brugse Zot is therefore rejected.

The same applies to the word BRUGS. In this sense, this is painful for this brewery because not only this opposition is lost, but the trademark office also states that BRUGS is descriptive. As a wordmark was invoked, the value of this wordmark has evaporated by this opposition. Think before you start is therefore an appropriate saying.

Finally, the trademark office notes a nice fact, namely that the Brugse Beer has a meaning on its own: according to a legend about the city of Bruges, Brugse Beer is the oldest resident of Bruges.

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