Left Hand Brewery Attempts To Trademark 'Nitro' For Its Beer Line

from the gassy-brew-ha-ha dept

Here we go again. Beer-makers and trademark seem to be becoming something of an item these days. Previously, we’ve noted trademarks and battles over last names, common sports phrases, and (sigh) whether a six looks too much like a nine. Seriously. These applications and battles tend to revolve around some common term or name being used in association with a beer brand. Where trademark was chiefly developed as a resource for consumers to keep from being duped, it has evolved into a language-grab for companies looking to knee-cap the competition.

Such is the latest case, in which Left Hand Brewing out of Colorado wants to trademark the term “nitro” for their beer brands. Unfortunately, this presents a problem.

Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing is attempting to trademark the term “nitro”—as in, nitrogen. The Longmont company is thus far the only US brewer to bottle with nitrogen as opposed to carbon dioxide, something it says it achieved at a steep cost: years of effort, and hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We have a bottle that is pretty unique,” president Eric Wallace tells the Denver Post. But here’s what’s not unique: Plenty of breweries pour nitro beer on draft, and others have announced or implied plans for nitro beer in bottles or cans. If the trademark is granted, Left Hand could send cease-and-desist letters to those breweries, a lawyer explains.

I’m not sure how accurate that last bit is. Instead, C&D letters would go out to other breweries using the label of nitro to denote a nitrogen infused beer, not breweries that simply partake in the process. Still, we see the problem of this evolution in trademark usage. What is likely to become an industry standard process, and one that is already done in other parts of the industry, is going to be locked up in terms of branding. Denoting a nitrogen-infused bottle isn’t terribly different from denoting a beer as ‘lite/light’, yet other breweries would be deprived the ability to do inform their customers of what they’re drinking if this mark goes through. That wasn’t the purpose of the law at the outset.

Other publications, and companies, appear to agree.

The Week sees nitro as a “descriptor”—”imagine if, say, Budweiser tried to trademark ‘refreshing,'” it quips. But Wallace says the trademark seeks to protect the name of its “Nitro Series” of beers, “not the style—not nitrogenated beers.” But a rep for Anheuser-Busch—which has until June to decide if it will oppose the application—notes, “As a brewer, we have produced our own nitrogenated beers and, like many other brewers, large and small, we need to maintain the ability to identify them to consumers.”

We’ll have to see if the trademark is granted, but it sure shouldn’t be if the intent of trademark law is followed.

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Companies: left hand brewery

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Comments on “Left Hand Brewery Attempts To Trademark 'Nitro' For Its Beer Line”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Beer

The magic of the Left Hand Brewing solution is that they don’t need to put a little N2 ball inside the bottle which is a technique that Guinness (and other nitro beers) use. It is indeed quite a unique solution and dealing with some of the reps for it, they are certainly proud of it. That in no way suggests that they should own the term “nitro”, though. Luckily enough for me there are plenty of other fine nitro beers to enjoy, so I won’t need to reach for Left Hand anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

I guess I don’t see why this is a problem. Brewers would not be precluded from advertising their beers as bottled with Nitrogen, but as I understand it, they would be precluded from branding their beers as ‘Nitro’ when that differentiator refers to their bottling process.

I don’t think it’s the same as ‘refreshing’ or ‘light’ … but if a brewer used a term unique within the industry to market their beer as refreshing or light, such as how Left Hand has used ‘Nitro’ to refer to nitrogen-bottled, then they’d be doing something similar.

Adam says:

1. Their Nitro Milk Stout is delicious and until I read this, was the primary beer used to stock my fridge and gift to others.
2. Their method is unique in not having to use a widget and they likely deserve credit (possibly a patent) for developing it.
3. Nitro has been used to describe Nitrogen beers for a very long time. They do not deserve a trademark for this whatsoever.
4. Shame on them and I plan to tell them that I will no longer be recommending this beer that I’ve been a huge cheerleader for unless they withdraw this stupid trademark application.
5. Young’s double chocolate stout in a 16 oz can better be ready to take my money.

Constitutionfirst says:

Please Don't feed the Lawyers

It’s silly to try to trademark such a common word. I’ve seen lots of the use “Nitro” but unless I see “Left Hand Brewery” I know I’m not getting Nitro Milk Stout. Give your customers the benefit of the doubt about their intelligence. We Microbrew drinkers are an educated lot when it comes to what’s offered out there. All you’re doing is making a bunch of rich lawyers even richer, in the end we all pay the bill, and you sully your good name in the process. Like Trolls, when you feed lawyers, they keep coming back for more.

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