Case study

Intellectual Property: Irn Bru

Trade secrets are one of the oldest forms of IP protection. One of the best kept secrets is the recipe for Irn Bru, hidden for 100 years.

Image of IRN-BRU logo.

Background

Irn Bru is a unique tasting carbonated soft drink created by A.G Barr Plc. It was first launched in Scotland in 1901 and contained an exclusive blend of 32 different flavours. This makes Irn Bru a drink like no other.

Irn Bru have a wealth of intellectual property (IP), from well recognised trademarks to innovative marketing campaigns. Although, the most successful asset they own is the recipe for Irn Bru, which has been kept a trade secret for many years.

The sacred recipe is known to only three people in the world; the former Chairman Robin Barr, his daughter Julie Barr and a Director. Legend has it that the infamous concoction of ingredients is also locked inside a vault in Switzerland, far away from the grasps of the other soft drink competitors.

Image of 2 IRN-BRU cans.

Trade Secrets

In the days before IP rights existed, trade secrets were far more common. They helped businesses gain a competitive edge in the market and distinguish goods from their competitors. Unlike patents, trade marks, designs and copyright, trade secrets have no expiry date. Providing you can keep the information from leaking out, they can last for a very long time. Some of the best kept secrets have survived for centuries!

Another benefit of a trade secret is that there is no legal obligation to disclose information. Patents, trade marks and designs however can be viewed by the public. Although a patent can legally prevent others copying the work, it does not prevent them looking at the specification and trying to work around it. However, trade secrets can be difficult to keep. If the information is leaked or someone creates the same product or process independently, there is nothing that can be done.

The only legal form of protection available is the law of confidentiality. You should avoid giving information to as few people as possible, but when necessary, you should use a Non-Disclosure agreement. This agreement is legally binding and legal action could be taken if they disclose any information.

A.G Barr have clearly proved they can keep a secret and Irn Bru is still going strong after all these years. In Scotland, Irn Bru is one of the most popular soft drinks. The equivalent of 12 x 330ml cans are consumed every second, on par with Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Coupled with unique and captivating marketing, Irn Bru has established itself as more than just a drink – it is now a fundamental part of Scottish culture.

Published 10 February 2015