Business

Belfast duo in trademark battle with Mariah Carey over Black Irish drinks brand

From Hollywood to Holywood, Richard Ryan at Belfast Lough with his own tongue-in-cheek take on Mariah Carey's Instagram photo.

TWO Belfast-based drinks veterans have become embroiled in an escalating trademark battle with Mariah Carey over Black Irish, the name the global pop superstar has selected for her new cream liqueur.

Steven Pattison and Richard Ryan are the co-founders of drinks brand and design company Drinksology Kirker Greer.

Their Belfast and Dublin operation has helped create leading drinks brands like Jawbox Gin and Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin.

They’re also the co-founders and directors of Darker Still Spirits, which last year launched Black Irish, a new drink blending two of Ireland’s most famous exports: Stout and whiskey.

The company, set up with Irish drinks industry veterans David Phelan and Adrian Walker in May 2020 took over the Black Irish trademark from a different firm, which obtained it first in 2015.

Black Irish was unveiled in June 2020, and has already been released across the EU and UK.

Mariah Carey announced her new Black Irish Cream Liqueur in an Instagram post last week.

“Two years in the making,” she wrote. “Truly a cause for celebration.”

Mariah Carey announced her new Irish cream liquer brand in an instagram post last week.

The Currency, which first reported the trademark battle, reported that Carey’s 2020 memoir detailed her sense of being both black and Irish as the daughter of Alfred Carey, a black Venezuelan, and her mother Patricia Hickey, who had Irish parents.

The Irish investigative news website also reported that a representative of Carey is believed to have approached the Darker Still directors early on, to try and acquire the Black Irish trademark in the EU, but it did not secure a deal.

Filings in the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), suggest that advisers to Carey are attempting to take the Black Irish trademark over in order to bring her cream liqueur – which says it is made in Ireland – to Europe.

Part of their case alleges the Irish company did not put the trademark to “genuine use” within a continuous period of five years.

From Hollywood to Holywood, Richard Ryan at Belfast Lough with his own tongue-in-cheek take on Mariah Carey's Instagram photo.

But the response issued by the Darker Still team details the background work ongoing since 2018, including work by the Belfast Drinkology team.

In a statement issued on behalf of the Darker Still directors, David Phelan confirmed that the company legally owns the 'Black Irish’ trademark in the EU and UK.

“Myself and my partners in Darker Still are collective veterans of the Irish drinks industry, and it is unprecedented that we are defending our position against a US company, within an Irish industry that we have helped support for over 30 years.

“We also call on Mariah Carey's appointed agent to stop claiming trademark rights to other products owned by our directors, presumed as a tactic to undermine our wider businesses.

"Despite being subject to these distractions, it is business as usual and we are expanding the presence of our ‘original’ Black Irish Whiskey across all of Europe.”

Richard Ryan displays his company's Black Irish Whiskey outside the Duke of York pub in Belfast.

Mr Phelan said similar rules apply to Irish cream as to Champagne or Cognac.

He added: “Questions are now being prepared to Mariah’s brand team to ascertain how a 'geographic indicator' Irish Cream Liqueur, could have been produced on the Island of Ireland without the relevant EU trademark permissions.

“What is certain is that we will continue fighting any trademark objection whilst also engaging with the European Commission in regards to specific legalities surrounding Irish cream production. This will provide clarity on the matter and resolve an unfortunate situation not of our making.”

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