Rolls-Royce is now a German company, Newcastle Brown Ale is part-owned by the Danes, and even dear old Branston Pickle has ended up in the hands of the Japanese. Should iconic UK brands remain exclusively British-owned?
YES UK taxpayers fund the infrastructure that makes a competitive, innovative economy. The battleground of our future competitiveness globally will be innovation. And the only way to protect investment in innovation is through intellectual property law, the most powerful form of which is the trademark – or in other words, the brand.
British brands trading on their heritage can benefit from enormous goodwill financially. In 2012, a post-Olympics study by Brand Finance revealed that British-owned brands such as Burberry had leapt in value by up to 64 per cent. Cadbury’s – owned by Kraft of the US – by contrast rose by 27 per cent.
UK-owned brands also create real economic value. This year the value of the top six British-based and British-owned brands, which include the BBC and Royal Mail, exceeds £20bn. We already protect some British brands. The royal family, for example, is a £44bn brand that has specific legal protection – and the use of its trademark is controlled carefully by law. Who would consider selling the royal brand to an overseas company?
At the end of the First World War, Germany’s reparations included brands, with the Aspirin trademark given to the US. To this day, neither Germany nor the US are keen to allow brands that have been built in their countries to be sold to foreign companies. They’re right – this is not an argument about narrow patriotism but about national economic interest.
Andy Milligan is the founder of business growth consultancy Caffeine
NO Good brands usually outlive their founders. Many of the most popular brands in the world are a few generations away from those who gave birth to them, and there is usually little or no involvement from the original founding family. Much of the debate around whether foreign ownership of brands is good or bad is, in reality, rooted in people’s perceptions of sovereignty rather than their perceptions of a non-domestic entity owning that specific brand.
As brands change hands, it’s critical that owners are respectful of their roles as custodians – rather than being the brands themselves. Owners should in theory continue to uphold the heritage of a brand regardless of their country of origin. In an increasingly globalised world, the consumer has to accept that most of the brands they consume will have some degree of trans-national ownership. For example, brands that are ‘made in England’ could be ‘owned in China’.
There is also a commercial consideration here. Brands are like any business asset – they are traded on an open market where anyone who has the capital to service their value can buy them. I don’t see this as a negative. In fact, foreign ownership of brands can often be the much-needed source of capital and skill they need to succeed. And if we’re going to be pedantic, surely ‘foreign ownership’ simply means any owner who wasn’t a part of the original founding team.
Vikas Shah is chief executive of textile business Swiscot Group