Craft breweries are cool, and being cool means not being a lawyer-loving Gordon Gekko like all those big corporate types. Craft beer fans definitely think so. Take lawsuits, for instance. According to this solid article on Quartz,
craft breweries that sue other craft breweries can often incur a backlash from always-opinionated beer fans — especially on social media — and even when it’s a legit legal situation.
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. Craft beer fans are taking to social media and using online petitions to pressure the plaintiffs into resolving their disputes out of court. In some cases, it’s working.
In its complaint, filed on Jan. 12, 2015, Lagunitas argued that the Chico, California-based Sierra Nevada’s forthcoming 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.
Lagunitas dropped the lawsuit just one day after filing the action. Unfortunately, as the beer marketplace gets more crowded there are going to be more and more disputes about branding, distribution and everything else. How you handle those disputes in the court of public opinion is definitely going to be scrutinized by beer fans.
We would say the public trademark disagreement a few years ago between West Sixth Brewing Co. and the executives at Magic Hat Brewing Co. was the wrong way to go about finding an amicable solution to a tough trademark situation. The two parties turned to the internet and social media to try to bully each other and craft fans about whether or not the various iterations of West Sixth’s logo infringed on the trademark of Magic Hat’s #9 craft beer. How could things have gone differently?
Back in 2013, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery ran into its own trademark dispute involving its Belgian-style white beer Namaste. An Austin, Texas, beer emporium called Whip In began brewing under the name Namaste Brewing Co., even though Dogfish Head retains a trademark on the name. How did Dogfish Head respond? Well, Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head wrote a letter to Whip In asking them kindly to stop — without the use of lawyers or social media trolling.
Even CBB’s favorite lawyer Candace Moon, in this great article on how to defend your craft beer trademarks, listed several steps before getting anywhere near a courtroom (See? Lawyers can be OK, everyone):
Step two: Personal contact
You are both making beer, so it stands to reason that you are both beer people. Call that beer person and, by all means, discuss it over a beer. There is a decent chance that it was an honest mistake and given the opportunity that person will take reasonable steps to discontinue the infringing use. No one wants to get sued. And while I never recommend opening the conversation with that, it is inevitably in the back of any business owner’s mind.
According to the Quartz article, it’s a David vs. Goliath complex, which usually means the bigger brewer in each case is usually regarded as the bigger dick.
Take for example the recent case of Bell’s Brewery. In March of 2015, the Galesburg, Michigan brewery filed a trademark challenge against much smaller Innovation Brewing of Sylva, 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 called 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.