It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, -
I've had it with all these craft beer trademark disputes. And I'm not the only one. Want proof,
Bill? Well I just read that these legal brouhahas have drawn enough unwanted attention that
attempting to educate outspoken fan bases has become part of many craft breweries’ media
strategies. It's really obvious that consumers like you and I (well, at least me) are often drawn
into loyalty situations sometimes with and sometimes without all the facts at hand, To get their
own point of view across to the breweries' fans craft brewers are using their company websites,
Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts to lobby the public.
Recent history has shown that as craft beer brands proliferate, brewers are increasingly
turning to the courts or the USPTO to protect their trademarks—and beer enthusiasts aren’t
happy about it. In response craft beer fans themselves are taking to social media and using
online petitions to pressure the plaintiffs into resolving their disputes out of court. Believe it or
not,In some cases, it’s working.
Lagunitas Brewing Co.’s trademark lawsuit against Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is probably the
most dramatic example of craft beer fans’ power. In its complaint, filed last year Lagunitas
argued that the Chico, California-based Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter IPA label and packaging
used bold, black lettering for the “IPA” that looked too much like the IPA lettering on the
Lagunitas IPA. The letters’ similar design and spacing could confuse consumers, alleged
Lagunitas. Craft beer fans pounced on the news of the lawsuit in an unexpected storm of
Twitter criticism. Because of that Lagunitas dropped the lawsuit just one day after filing the
Bill, I understand that an increasing number of breweries mean more names, logos, and
designs needing trademark protection from the competition. And the fact that, for trademark
purposes, beer, wine, and spirits are all lumped into one category makes coming up with non-
infringing names and designs exponentially more difficult.. I don't have an answer but I do know
that like many other craft fans out there I'm fed up with all of this. A plague on both your
houses. Do you agree with me or do you want to once again be wrong (just teasing)?
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Well you know I only disagree with you when you're wrong. Ha. Come on admit it, I'm always
right. I remember one time I thought I was wrong but it turned out I was right. That's a joke
Gina. Ok, here's my view. I agree with you that craft fans are rising up. It's no surprise since
they have a strong sense of community and a passion for things that are handcrafted. I firmly
believe that like us, most craft fans feel a real connection with the people who make their favorite
beers. So much so that they feel like they’re part of the company as a whole.
Additionally, craft beer fans generally think litigation is a tool used by big corporations, not small
brewers. And they definitely don’t like to see a David vs. Goliath scenario in which a larger craft
brewer is perceived to be bullying a smaller one. Take for example the recent case of when
Bell’s Brewery filed a trademark challenge against much smaller Innovation Brewing in North
Carolina. After hearing about the action, a group of irate Innovation supporters launched a
Change.org petition demanding Bell’s Brewery withdraw its challenge. In the petition, 700 craft
beer enthusiasts known as The Secret Beer Group call on “like-minded people who think craft
beer is about togetherness and not crushing small business to boycott Bell’s Brewing until they
drop this trademark dispute.” The petition has drawn 5,582 supporters, but so far Bell’s Brewery
isn’t budging. Maybe you should sign it Gina.
At issue is Innovation Brewing’s name, which Bell’s Brewery argues could cause confusion with its
own slogan “bottling innovation since 1985.” Baloney if you ask me.. Anyway, the two brewers
have each made their positions public online. Innovation posted their six-point defense on the
brewery’s Facebook page, while Bell’s addressed the dispute on the company’s blog.
Negotiation is always preferable to litigation, which costs time, money and may harm a brewer’s
reputation. However, there is evidence that shows that while a litigious brewer might see a
temporary dip in sales on its local turf, suing another brewer doesn't necessairly hurt sales in the
There aren't many industries growing as rapidly as the craft beer business, and as such it's sadly
true that not every disagreement will be resolved amicably. At this point, legal actions are
inevitable, no matter how much craft beer enthusiasts like us may hate it. I agree with you that all
this contentious is not in the spirit of the industry but at the end of the day, we have to remember
it’s a business and trademarks are an important part of the landscape.
Here's looking at you Gina