It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, did you hear about the latest series of law suits and counter suits over beer name
copyrights? Full Sail Brewing Company is going after Grey Sail Brewing Company and
Coronado Brewing filed suit against Elysian Brewing Company alleging that Elysian “knocks
off” Coronado’s registered beer Idot when they came up with one called Idiot Sauvin. One of
my favorite suits was when Bear Republic owner of Racer 5 sued Central City Brewing
because they were marketing a beer called Red Racer.
Now I understand that memorable names mean everything to micro breweries. Loyal
customers often ask for specific brews and word-of-mouth advertising is indispensable to most
small breweries who can't afford much in the way of advertising. I also know that the
government only registers trademarks and the trademark owner is responsible for its
enforcement. And lastly Bill, I appreciate the fact that itt is important to diligently enforce the
use of a trademark because trademark owners run the risk of losing their rights otherwise.
But it's still silly. Are they saying I might order a Racer 5 instead of the Red Racer because
one tried to intentionally confuse me? Am I that easy to confuse, bill? Don't answer that!
Consider the classic case of Budweiser vs.Budvar. The use of the registered trademark for
Budweiser Budvar beer is originally from the Czech Republic. The St. Louis-based Anheuser
Busch has been trying to purchase the Pilsner trademark for global use from the Czech
company for decades. But, successive Czech governments have persistently opposed this or
any privatization of the state owned company. The two companies are still fighting over the
name in different European countries.
A few years ago Hansen Beverage Company makers of Monster Energy Drink sent a cease
and desist letter to Rock Art Brewery over the name “Vermonster,” citing that it was too close
to their brand of Monster Energy Drinks. The letter was revoked by Hansen after public outcry
and calls over the Internet to boycott Monster. Seems we the public are not as dumb as some
might think and we resent being treated as such.
To be honest I admit to sometimes getting confused by similar names but never to the point of
buying something I didn't want. Beer names like “Flying Dog, Flying Fish, Dogfish, Sea Dog,
Laughing Dog; High & Mighty, High Noon, High Point; Mad River, Russian River, Snake River
seem to exist in the marketplace without an uproar from the public. If there's no confusion
maybe the best thing for beer companies to do is just sit back and let beer drinkers determine
which beer is best by buying it.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next month.
Well Gina, In the case of alcoholic beverages, the degree of similarity is a big deal since the
likelihood of confusion is greater because drinks are frequently purchased at bars and clubs
without the buyer seeing any bottles or labels. Owners of trademarks do so essentially so they
can prevent “tarnishment” of their brand by those making inferior products. I'm sure if you were
Sierra Nevada you wouldn't want some brewery making a terrible light lager and calling it
Trademark laws are there for reason and it is not that hard for a new brewery to make sure they
are not infringing on another's name. Three simple steps can save a lot of expensive legal
haggling. First just check out the United States Patent and Trademark Office website. Running a
free search will come up with all federally registered trademarks. Second do a similar search for
state-registered trademarks. Lastly, because trademark rights under common law accrue
automatically when they are being used in commerce, a search on Google engines may also
provide useful information on who, if anyone, is using a name.
It makes sense to assume that neither business usually wants their brand being confused with
the other side’s different (and potentially inferior) product. In the world of craft beers, one bad
sip can mean disaster, as you correctly noted. As such, copyrights are really important.
I appreciate your point that the buying public will eventually sort things out making the
marketplace the ultimate judge of any infringements. But that takes time and good guys can
lose. Still, lawsuits are expensive and most micro breweries would much rather put their time and
money into brewing more beer so let me suggest the breweries might come up with some sort of
coexistence agreements that agrees on ways to use a disputed name. In other words, settle it
yourselves. Of course the best way to solve an honest dispute over a beer's name was seen
when Avery sued Russian River over "Salvation", a Belgium style ale both were making. hey
decided to jointly brew a seasonal beer that “blends the brews to catch the best qualities of
each.” They named the final product Collaboration Not Litigation Ale.
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.