What next for the battle between Mongoose and Cobra?

Wells and Young’s’ claim that its new Mongoose beer brand uses theoriginal recipe for Cobra Beer are unlikely to be the subject of a legalchallenge, according to lawyers, but the brewer needs to be careful that itsmarketing does not attract regulatory scrutiny.

Mongoose, a “cheeky” moniker chosen because of the mammal’s ability to overcome the cobra snake, features a mongoose with a dead cobra in its mouth on the label and claims to be the beer of choice for “those in the know”.

However, the assertion that could prove to be the most controversial is that Wells and Young’s founder Charles Wells owns the recipe used to make Cobra because it was never assigned to Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder and joint owner of the brand via the Cobra Beer Partnership, the joint venture between him and Molson Coors.

Molson Coors declined to comment when asked whether any action would take over the claims.

However, in response to but making no mention of Mongoose, both Lord Bilimoria and Dr. Cariapa, Cobra’s founding master brewer, were keen to stress that they had created the beer.

“As Cobra’s founder and creator I am wholeheartedly dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the Cobra brand and the distinctive quality of the beer itself,” Lord Bilimoria adds.

Legal experts predict that it could be difficult for the Partnership to mount a legal case.

Andy Millmore, partner at Harbottle & Lewis says: “Tatste you cannot protect and recipes are typically protected only by trade secret.”

Isabel Davies of law firm CMS Cameron McKenna, says ownership disputes often arise when agreements are not put in writing.

“Recipes and other trade secrets are often very valuable to food and drink manufacturers. Some companies will allow only a small number of employees to know the recipe, and will bind them with obligations of confidentiality,” she adds.

Although Mongoose’s label and advertising materials do not make direct reference to Cobra Beer, lawyers believe that Wells and Young’s needs to be careful that it does not overstep the mark.

Mark Daniels, an intellectual property lawyer at Browne Jacobson, says that Mongoose’s owners will have to decide whether the publicity generated by the launch outweighs the potential for regulatory scrutiny.

“Questions about comparative advertising look capable of being raised. But then the controversial marketing campaigns are often the most eye catching. The question is whether any potential legal spat surrounding the campaign serves to raise visibility of Mongoose beer even further.”

Wells and Young’s is hoping to fill what it describes as “genuine gap in the market for the original Indian recipe beer” to challenge Cobra and Kingfisher.

The Indian beer market is becoming increasingly competitive with rivals Cobra and Kingfisher both launching campaigns this year that push their Indian heritage, while linking them with eating Indian food.

Mongoose’s owners will be hoping that the law of the jungle prevails.

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