Hopefully you’ve been following our craft beer trademark series (from research through filing) to both protect your brewery from outside opposition and to also establish your own trademarks so they are enforceable against possible violations. We say hopefully so that you may hopefully avoid a situation like this: According to the St Louis Dispatc, North Carolina craft brewer has garnered the attention of Anheuser-Busch after attempting to trademark its name, Natty Greene’s Brewing Co., last August.
In case it’s been awhile since you’ve played beer pong in a college dorm room, Anheuser-Busch is the maker of Natural Light beer or, as the kids say, “Natty Light.” Well, turns out, over the years, the brass of A-B has also trademarked “Natty Light” as well as “Fatty Natty” and “Natty Daddy.”
So, what is Natty Greene? Is it a St. Patrick’s Day version of Natty Light? Nope. Natty Greene’s is named for Nathanael Greene, a Revolutionary War general. The St Louis Dispatch notes that dozens of U.S. cities and counties have been named after Greene, including Greensboro, N.C.
From the Dispatch:
“We really wanted to attach the name to the community,” said Kayne Fisher, who co-founded what’s grown to become the third largest brewer based in North Carolina with college roommate Chris Lester.
Natty Greene’s has grown annual production to 17,000 barrels and recently started shipping its beer to parts of South Carolina and Virginia.
It was that growth outside its state borders that prompted the trademark application for the company’s name, Fisher said. Natty Greene’s successfully trademarked its beers, including Buckshot Amber Ale and Southern Pale Ale, this year.
Would anyone really confuse Natty Greene’s Brewing with Natty Light? Probably not (especially if they tasted it). And in its trademark application, Natty Greene’s noted that it has used the phrase in commerce for a decade. But trademark law lives in the gray areas and trademarks are made to be enforced.
“Since at least 1998, and well prior to the filing date of the application, (A-B) has established a family of Natty-formative marks used in connection with beer,” A-B states in its opposition filing, adding it has “sold millions of dollars’ worth of beer under the Natty marks, and has spent millions of dollars advertising and promoting its products under these trademarks.”
A-B spokesman Adam Warrington said it’s routine for companies to oppose trademark filings to protect their intellectual property and stressed that its opposition only relates to the trademark, not Natty Greene’s ability to sell beer.