Alcohol Change UK has lost its trademark extension case to alcohol company Big Drop Brewing. Under the ruling, alcohol companies will be able to co-opt the ‘Dry January’ label in their own marketing content.

The genesis of ‘Dry January’

Dry January is a campaign delivered by Alcohol Change UK where people sign up to go alcohol-free for the month of January, with the help of an app and an online community. The term “Dry January” is a registered trademark with Alcohol Change UK and was first registered in 2014, according to Wikipedia.

The Dry January campaign was first delivered in 2013 by Alcohol Concern (now called Alcohol Change UK) and 2024 marked the 11th anniversary of the campaign. The first reported Dry January was in 2008 by Frank Posillico in Huntington, New York, as per Wikipedia. Many noted his dramatic weight loss and increased energy level. Inspired by Mr Posillico’s movement, Emily Robinson started an international Dry January campaign when she joined Alcohol Concern in 2012. While others may have had a month off alcohol in January, Ms Robinson was the first person to turn it into a campaign and trademarked Dry January for Alcohol Concern. Already in December 2010, Nicole Brodeur of The Seattle Times wrote a column on her first Dry January motivated by her intent to age well.

In its first year, 4,000 people signed up for Dry January and it has grown in popularity ever since with over 130,000 people signing up to take part in 2022.

Dry January was endorsed by Public Health England in 2015 leading to a large uptake in numbers and steady increase in participants year on year. Research by the University of Sussex published in 2020 found that people signing up to participate in Dry January using the free Try Dry app and/or coaching emails from Alcohol Change UK were twice as likely to have a completely alcohol-free month, compared to those who try to avoid alcohol on their own in January, and have significantly improved wellbeing and lower levels of alcohol use six months later.

The Dry January trademark battle

In 2014, Alcohol Change UK trademarked the term ‘Dry January’ to support its science-based resources for high-risk alcohol consumers. In 2022, the organization sought to extend this trademark into new areas of products and services (classes 6, 9, 14, 18, 21, 28, 29, 30, 32, 35 and 43).

However, zero-alcohol beverage company Big Drop Brewing decided to challenge Alcohol Change UK. Before the judge, Big Drop Founder Rob Fink argued that allowing Alcohol Change UK to trademark the phrase would prevent ‘non-alcoholic’ producers from using it to promote their products. The product classes that Big Drop defended from the trademark include class 30 (coffee, tea and cocoa), class 32 (covering non-alcoholic drinks), parts of class 35 (covering advertising and promotion in relation to beverages), and class 43 (covering services for the provision of food and drink).

Alcohol Change UK’s history with ‘Dry January’

According to Alcohol Change UK, participation numbers have climbed above 175,000 in 2023.

The alcohol-free month challange has now grown to the extent that it partners with organizations in France, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, and the United States, according to Wikipedia.

Record number of people participated in Dry January in 2023
According to Alcohol Change UK, over 175,000 people signed to participate in Dry January in 2023.

Dry January helps people across the world to go a month free from alcohol and experience the benefits of ditching booze. A lot of scientific and anecdotal evidence also show that the challenge helps people reduce alcohol consumption all-year round. It also helps people quit alcohol consumption entirely.

Despite this long history, Big Drop successfully argued that the term ‘Dry January’ was “generic within the low and no-alcohol sector”.

As a counterargument, Alcohol Change UK argued that the organization had “coined the term and has invested significantly in its promotion for over a decade, also policing its use and licensing it to others”.

Judge Judy Pike admitted that Alcohol Change UK’s application had not been made in bad faith. However, the judge ruled that it was “reasonable to assume other traders will use the words in marketing a promotion for their drinks”. In legal terms, Alcohol Chage UK had failed to achieve the ‘distinctiveness through use’ that the trademark extension required.

This ruling therefore allows for no- and low-alcohol companies, as well as Big Alcohol companies, to market various products and services under the guise of belonging to the ‘Dry January’ campaign.

The alcohol industry is known for interfering with and undermining Dry January. There are similar examples from the Netherlands and several from France as well.

In addition to increasing their profits, alcohol companies can boost their own brands, while undermining the campaign.

Alcohol Change UK remains committed to protecting the ‘Dry January’ space

As cited in The Grocer, Alcohol Change UK’s CEO Richard Piper emphasized that the organization still owned the trademark for certain product classes.

Any company wishing to use Dry January as the name of an alcohol-abstaining programme should first seek permission to do so.

Official partners to the Alcohol Change UK Dry January programme have the right to use the name and we positively welcome conversations with any non-alcoholic brand that wants to explore joining us as a partner.”

Richard Piper, CEO, Alcohol Change UK


Irish Legal: “Alcohol charity loses ‘Dry January’ trade mark battle

Just Drinks: “Big Drop wins Dry January trademark battle

The Grocer: “Big Drop successfully challenges ‘Dry January’ trademark application by Alcohol Change UK

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