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They've Got Bottle, but could BrewDog end up with IP hangover after beer recipe release?

30/03/2016 14:02 | Updated 30 March 2016

In a stroke of PR genius, Scottish craft brewery BrewDog has released the recipes for every beer they've ever made and sold - for free.

In a statement released with their DIY Dog: The BrewDog Back Catalogue, they announce, 'We wanted to do something that has never been done before as well as paying tribute to our home brewing roots. We wanted to take all of our recipes, every single last one, and give them all away for free, to the amazing global home brewing community. We have always loved the sharing of knowledge, expertise and passion in the craft beer community and we wanted to take that spirit of collaboration to the next level.'

This apparent goodwill gesture is perhaps not as surprising coming from BrewDog as it would be from other companies, as they've firmly established their stance as home-grown, down-to-earth beer enthusiasts that don't buy into the corporate game. On launching a recent £25 million crowd-funding initiative to raise capital and share ownership of the company, they openly lambasted the 'financial institutions of the City' that have 'given rise to the bastardisation and commoditisation of beer', and proclaimed, 'we are burning the established system down to the ground and forging a new future for business from the flames'.

They've reiterated this opinion in the release of their DIY Dog, concluding their welcome note with a cheeky aside: 'Oh, and if you are from one of the global beer mega corporations and you are reading this, your computer will spontaneously combust, James Bond style, any second now.' Quite.

Now, while an open invitation to 'copy, bastardize and enjoy [...] the keys to the kingdom' will no doubt cause homebrew enthusiasts and craft beer lovers to rejoice at the prospect of being able to recreate their favourite tipples in their garden sheds, alarm bells may well be ringing for BrewDog's IP lawyers.

Presumably, BrewDog are going into this fully aware that, on some level, their products will be copied and, possibly, sold at some stage.

From an intellectual property law perspective, their decision to release the recipes regardless of this is perplexing.

What happens, for example, if home-brewers manage to master the recipes, bottle them, and sell them for a profit? Could BrewDog be opening a floodgate of potential copyright or design infringements? Worse still: if supermarket own brands start tasting like BrewDog's Punk IPA, how could they prove, or stop it?

Because they've released these recipes into the public domain, BrewDog have given brewers and producers a free pass to recreate their beers at will - provided they do not try to pass themselves, or their product, off as BrewDog - either by name, label or design.

While any reputable brewery is unlikely to discredit their own product by admitting to following a competitor's recipe, it is somewhat surprising that a company would simply give away one of the most valuable attributes of its products (the taste).

Rather than championing and shrouding in mystery the 'secret ingredient' that makes their beer stand out (in the manner of so many successful food and beverage corporations), BrewDog have, instead, laid themselves bare.

This suggests that they believe that the success of their brand is not dependent on the exclusivity of the product that they sell - a message that, essentially, turns brand identity on its head.

By giving away the secrets behind their products rather than keeping them hallowed, BrewDog present an unusually confident message: 'We are successful and our product is great. We don't need to tell you that - go and make it yourself.'

It is a bold - and perhaps arrogant - move, but it could also be a brilliant one.

By seemingly undermining the very essence of their products - and potentially damaging the value of their business - BrewDog are, undoubtedly, making a name for themselves.

After all, what better way to become a household name than to have people make your product themselves? We've all had a 'Jamie's lasagne', a 'Delia's roast' or a 'Nigella's Christmas Cake' - could a 'BrewDog pale ale' simply be the next step?

Wayne Beynon is an IP lawyer at Cardiff and London based law firm Capital Law: www.capital-law.co.uk

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