Dame Vera Lynn wins trademark battle over gin

Halewood International has been ordered to pay Dame Vera Lynn £1,800 after losing a case to trademark the singer’s name for its gin.

The firm said Vera Lynn is cockney rhyming slang for gin, but Dame Vera opposed the trademark and said it could be construed as her endorsing the product.

Trademark hearing officer Al Skilton ruled in favour of the 102-year-old singer, who was known as the Forces’ sweetheart during World War II.

Skilton said that Dame Vera is extremely well-known singer and performer. “She is also very well-known for her charity work, including with ex-servicemen, disabled children and breast cancer,” he added.

“Well-known personalities are known to endorse products, there will inevitably be confusion that the opponent has endorsed the applicant’s products.

“The applicant [Halewood] has failed to provide any evidence of the level of understanding of cockney rhyming slang in the UK, or anything to illustrate the level of awareness of the term Vera Lynn with reference to gin.

“The evidence falls a long way short of showing that the relevant public for alcoholic beverages will, on encountering ‘Vera Lynn’, see it as a rhyming slang reference for gin, rather than bringing to mind the entertainer Vera Lynn, who has been in the entertainment business for 84 years.”

Halewood can still appeal the decision.

Fiona McBride, partner and trade mark attorney at European intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, said:

“Dame Vera Lynn has won this case to protect the use of her own name as a well-known singer and charity worker.

“Whilst confirming the value of unregistered rights, the ruling also highlights how important it is for brand owners to take extra care when attempting to register celebrity names for use in connection with a new product they are bringing to market. Before doing so, they should check for any pre-existing rights (registered or not) and make sure they have evidence to show that consumers would not confuse use of the individual’s name with a product endorsement.

“The ruling appears to contradict earlier case law involving drinks company, Brewdog, over its ownership of the trade mark, ‘Brewdog Elvis Juice’. In this case, the brewer won its appeal case in January 2018, following a legal dispute with the Elvis estate, allowing it to continue using the name for one of its beer products.

“While on the surface, these cases seem similar, brand owners hoping to use celebrity names in this way must be able to show there is no likelihood of consumer confusion.”