Belfast Telegraph

Global drinks giant AB InBev forces one-man Belfast business John Appleseed to change name claiming trademark infringement

Exclusive: Colin Mackey (30) had to withdraw a trademark application for his social enterprise juice business

By John Mulgrew

Global drinks giant AB InBev has forced a charitable one-man Belfast business to change its name claiming trademark infringement.

Colin Mackey (30) was forced to withdraw a trademark application for his social enterprise juice business John Appleseed's, after receiving a letter from a law firm representing the largest brewer in the world.

It claimed the name was "sufficiently similar" to its alcoholic 'hard cider' brand Johnny Appleseed.

The product - launched last year - is being sold in the US.

Multi-billion dollar drinks company AB InBev, headquartered in Belgium, is best known for brands such as Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona.

Mr Mackey said it felt like "the heart was ripped out of his business", which makes "ethical and environmentally friendly" produce.

"I'm massively angry. You put so much work into something, and then this huge behemoth comes and does this," he said.

"I couldn't believe it, and it seems this kind of thing happens a lot.

"There are people who have wasted tens of thousands on their business before this happens."

Despite explaining he was selling non-alcoholic juice as part of a small social enterprise, with profits being injected into helping homeless charities, AB InBev stood firm in its position.

"You could be stubborn, dig in, and get the hump - but I would rather put my time in to what I set out to do," he said.

"It's still a significant amount of money and time spent on the business and branding - going to events and getting people to know about it.

"Now, all that work and effort has gone."

The three-page letter from Novagraaf requested Mr Mackey to "withdraw" the application "to avoid any confusion" claiming there was potential for customers to "be confused and, perhaps, mistakenly buy your products thinking they originated or were authorised by Anheuser-Busch".

"Clearly the dominant element of your trade mark is the name John Appleseed which is almost identical to our client's registered trade mark Johnny Appleseed," it said. "The goods and services of your application, whilst not necessarily identical, are clearly similar to the goods of our client's registration since the nature, purpose and channels of trade could be identical."

And it said: "In the event that you do not withdraw (the application) and our client is successful, you should be aware that will seek an award of costs in our client's favour."

Mr Mackey has since withdrawn the trademark and rebranded his business as Mango Street.

A spokesman for AB InBev told the Belfast Telegraph: "I can confirm that we have two trademark registrations covering the European Union, J. Appleseed and Johnny Appleseed.

"We recently noticed a trademark application for the UK for identical products under the name John Appleseed. Given that the products were identical, and that the marks were extremely similar, we felt consumers would be confused by multiple products.

"As such, we initiated a dialogue with the applicant who subsequently withdrew the application."

Dawn McKnight of law firm Carson McDowell said while it was "unfortunate", the move was "part of the trademark registration process".

"Trademark registration gives you the opportunity to protect a name - what's happened here is the workings of the trademark process," she said. "What they are doing is taking action to preserve their legal position.

"I don't think it matters about the size - someone is protecting their right.

"Brand is king in today's economy, and that's what the trademark system is about. It's unfortunate that he has stepped on the toes of someone large and sophisticated."

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