Blog: Olly WehringSWA chief preaches zero tolerance

Olly Wehring | 12 February 2009

There can be few drinks industry organsations in the world who so vehemently and vocally defend intellectual property rights on the products that they represent.

When it comes to busting the fakers, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is up there with the best of them. It claims to be handling 70 legal actions at any one time as a result of its inquiries into products around the world that purport to be real Scotch.

No-one better, then, than SWA chief executive Gavin Hewitt to talk about international property rights (IPR) at yesterday's (11 February) Scottish Food & Drink International Conference. 

Holding up a bottle of fake Scotch previously on sale in Australia, he warned delegates that threats to IPR were not solely limited to emerging market countries, among which, he said, China has been a prime suspect.

He also gave an insight into the resources needed to mount a global "zero tolerance" approach to copycat producers. These include an army of IPR lawyers, supported by an international affairs team, all in addition to brand protection teams employed by individual distillers. Then there's the group of lab experts at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute.

In short, protecting your protected name status is not for the faint-hearted, nor for those with shallow pockets.

Hewitt was unapologetic for the resources used: "Our policy has to be one of zero tolerance," he said. "If we find an imitation product on sale, we will act using both civil and criminal enforcement mechanisms to have the product removed from the market. If we did not, the reputation we have built up over many years would be swiftly eroded to the point that ‘Scotch Whisky’ would become a meaningless term."

On bolstering IPR in the Scottish food and drink industry, Hewitt warned against being too stringent, and specifically over sourcing of ingredients.

"We need to ensure that in promoting the quality of Scottish food and drink produce when defining what terms such as ‘Product of Scotland’ or ‘Made in Scotland’ means we do not tie ourselves in knots over the sourcing of raw materials. 

"From a whisky perspective, we try and source our raw materials in Scotland whenever and wherever possible. But in days of climate change and uncertain harvests, we continue to need the flexibility to source our cereals, if necessary, from outside Scotland. The French wine and Cognac industries paid a heavy price in the 19th century when their vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera and could not source raw materials elsewhere."


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