The Mordor the Merrier, or why your local pub can be hobbit-forming

Wise after the event:
"You and your SatNav! I told you
the pub was in the other direction ..."
Have you ever wondered where Europe's wisest professionals, our friends the patent attorneys, go when they feel the need to indulge in a spot of networking and client development, when they have a little leisure time, or when they crave a bit of inspiration, stimulation or rehydration? If so, the answer's generally the same: it's off to the public house (generally and irreverently abbreviated to 'pub').  A pub is a place that sells, inter alia, spirits, which may account for the fact that so many patent attorneys are, or seek to be, so public-spirited. One such good soul, Katfriend Gwilym Roberts (Kilburn & Strode) -- one of a small and select band of IP experts who rejoice in the forename Gwilym -- has been reflecting on the institution of the pub and, not unnaturally, its intellectual property law dimension.  This is what he writes:
Off licence

A very pleasant interlude in the Dubliners Pub and Cafe, Shinagawa, Tokyo, led me to reflect on the cheerful disdain for IP held by one of our oldest and greatest institutions -- the pub. Putting to one side the question whether an institution that delivers cheese selections to your table can really represent itself as a traditional Irish pub, what is it with pub names and trade marks?

Many a patent claim has been
construed within these portals ...
I'm not sure there's anything much trade markier than a pub name: the IPKat simply has to say "we'll meet at the Old Nick" and everyone knows everything they need to know. But not only (outside the unlikeable chains) do pubs not bother registering their names, they don't seem to need to. Somehow, despite the fact that London has a pub every 10 yards or so [that's exactly 9.144 metres, explains Merpel for the benefit of those readers who have never got beyond the metric system], no-one ever goes to the wrong one. And I don't think that another pub in Holborn would call itself the Old Nick despite the attraction of cutting into the lucrative IP-specialist-beer-appreciation market. Not for legal reasons; they just ... wouldn't.

Apart from the general common sense pervading the pub naming community there are some rather quaint factors at play. There is an innate sense of the rules of passing-off at the most local geographical level. There are plenty of Lambs, Lions, Crowns, and so on, but they're always just far enough apart. Implicit, when you suggest a pub rendezvous, is that it is that one near the office, or home, or the station, or the football ground. Somehow, other pubs seem instinctively to identify the relevant zone and avoid confusion without needing legal advice.

There is also a community, or shared-experience aspect. It's that pub we always go to, or where we had that great night discussing rule 36 EPC with that barmaid. This is less well-defined legally, but all contributes to a system which appears to function beautifully without any need for the lawmakers to involve themselves. Anyway, they couldn't organise a ****up in a brewery.

Mordor would have been infinitely more
cheerful if it had a decent pub
It's telling that one of the better publicised cases involving pub names was when The Hobbit pub incurred Hollywood's wrath [on which see Katposts here and here]. The principle of local/community self regulation could have broken down when Mordor took on 134 Bevois Valley Road, Southampton. In fact it held strong: people just had a good laugh at the lawyers, and Sauron lost.

We don't go to a pub because of the name. People weren't streaming to Bevois Valley Road drawn by their love of hobbits. Yes, there may be something about the beer or the pickled eggs that makes a certain pub a bit special but in fact we go to it for a whole blend of reasons -- convenience, good memories, nice chairs. That barmaid.

Yet it's the name that gets us there, so what is it about pubs that means they're exempt from dreary legals? Is it simply the human metadata of association and common experience that completes the distinctiveness? And is it that why pub namers instinctively know there's no point in trying to confuse the punter? Whatever the reason it's a success, and wouldn't it be lovely to work out why. Answers please. On a beermat.
The Mordor the Merrier, or why your local pub can be hobbit-forming The Mordor the Merrier, or why your local pub can be hobbit-forming Reviewed by Jeremy on Monday, October 21, 2013 Rating: 5


  1. "People weren't streaming to Bevois Valley Road drawn by their love of hobbits."

    Given that my friends around there dragged me to it by excited squeeing "They have a cocktail called Gollum! And it's green!", the branding had at least some effect! Though more to get the fresh crop of geeky university students through the door each year than anything else.

  2. You have to be careful in Marylebone, with a pub on Homer Street ( and a pub just round the corner on Crawford Street ( both called The Beehive.

    Although I'd assume you meant the one on Crawford Street (it's much nicer).

  3. Really pleased to read this - it's something I've wondered about over time (along with wondering about design registration when a " new " pub sign appears). The don't-register-as-a-trade-mark applecart is, I think, upset when (i) the Applicant is involved in a whole set of " new " TM Applications (so, for example, the pub that's part of the shopping mall finds itself with a new (and registrable) name), and (ii) it's a nightclub rather than a pub. Hope this fits on a beermat !

  4. Pub names can confuse. There are two Black Boys in Bewdley, Worcestershire; I well remember spending a solitary evening in one, while my intended co-drinker and -conversationalist was doing the same in the other. If you ever find yourself in Shrewsbury, we could meet in The Wheatsheaf. Or not. There's a 50% chance.

    And up to the 1930s, there were no fewer than three Red Lions in St Albans, within about 100 yards. . There were so many mistakes that one was renamed the Little Red Lion and another the Lower Red Lion. Sadly, only the Lower Red survives, but retains the qualification.


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