Lucasfilm Disputes Empire Brewing's 'Strikes Bock' Trademark Application

from the the-power-of-the-dark-side dept

Here we go again. For some reason, alcohol products, particularly beer, seem to make everyone go trademark crazy. This latest case concerns Empire Brewing Company out of New York (you know, the “Empire State”) and their latest brew released in bottle form, called “Strikes Bock.” Do you already know where this is going? I’m pretty sure you already know where this is going.

Lucasfilm has filed a trademark dispute with a small brewery in Syracuse, New York. Empire Brewing Co., named after New York’s Empire State Building, recently applied for a trademark for its signature lager, Strikes Bock, according to The Star Wars producer contends Empire’s beer infringes on Lucasfilm trademarks and could be used to deceive consumers or cause brand confusion.

Of course, Lucasfilm, now featuring a litigation supercharger in the form of Disney ownership, has filed a trademark dispute. As best as the internet can tell me, there is no such thing as a Star Wars beer produced by Lucasfilm. As the trademark opposition itself notes, the trademark that Lucasfilm has is for “toys, games, apparel, video/computer games, personal-care products, paints, trading cards, confections, prerecorded films and music, books, magazines, music and entertainment services.” I don’t see beer. Or any other kinds of beverages. The best Lucasfilm can come up with in its opposition filings is that Lucasfilm licensed the “Skywalker” name to Skywalker Vineyards, which makes Skywalker wines. But it still seems like a stretch to argue there’s a likelihood of confusion here, rather than just a basic homage to the film.

“The thing is the beer is called ‘Strikes Bock,’ not ‘Empire Strikes Bock,’” Empire Brewing Co. owner David Katleski said. “It’s ‘Strikes Bock,’ by Empire.”

That may sound like a minor difference, but add to it the fact that Empire Brewing Company’s name is not in itself under dispute and their logos and packaging to date are in no way similar to any Star Wars films, and what we end up with is an obvious nod to the film — one which won’t cause any brand confusion — that’s being disputed by Lucasfilm just to be a pain in the ass. It’s worth noting, by the way, that Strikes Bock certainly isn’t the only such craft beer nod. Here’s a list of some more, including my favorite.

Lucasfilm might have a marginally stronger argument as a dilution claim, but especially given that it’s not actually “Empire Strikes Bock,” or even “Empire’s Strike Bock,” but “Strike Bock by Empire Brewing Company,” even the dilution claim feels a bit iffy.

Katleski has hired a lawyer, but he also acknowledges his small brewery doesn’t have the money to contend with Lucasfilm in the long run if they decide to throw their money behind this. Of course, there is a reasonable flip side to this, which is that if they’re just such a small brewery, why did the company even bother filing for a trademark in the first place? The company doesn’t need the trademark to sell the beer. It could easily rely on common law trademark instead of getting a registered one, saving it some money (and calling in the attention of Lucasfilm/Disney lawyers). In the end, though, we just have another trademark dispute that doesn’t seem to serve any real benefit to anyone.

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Companies: empire brewing company, lucasfilm

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Comments on “Lucasfilm Disputes Empire Brewing's 'Strikes Bock' Trademark Application”

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Anonymous Coward says:

There was a case many years ago where McDonalds sued a start-up motel chain called “McSleep”. While the defendants claimed they were trading on the legendary frugality of the Scots- McD’s claimed that it one day may wish to get into the hospitality business and such similarity would cause confusion or otherwise diminish its brand and reputation. Court ruled for Hamburglar et al.

tqk (profile) says:

Mickey Mouse Beer?

I’d just like to point out the popular meaning of the phrase, “mickey mouse”, as in, “Well, that sounds pretty mickey mouse”; as in pathetic. “What is it, negative 2% alcohol?” Maybe they could pawn it off on kindergartners, Mormons, or Muslims, but nobody else would want it.

On another note, Skywalker Vineyards? Who’d want to name a vineyard that? More likely, D’s lawyers stumbled across a vineyard that’d been called that for generations, and shook them down for use of the name.

Adam says:

not really sure

I don’t think the owner of Empire is correct in his statement about the name. If I order a Sam Adams Octoberfest at a bar, I say Sam Adams Octoberfest, not Octoberfest by Sam Adams.
That said, my ordering an Empire Strikes Bock (and I will as soon as I can find one) isn’t going to make any difference to Disney’s bottom line.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: not really sure

Would you really order an “Empire Strikes Bock”? That full phrase?

Most people I think would order an “Empire”, or a “Bock”, or some other abbreviation.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone order a beer that has a 3 or 4 word name use all the words. Even 1-word beers are often abbreviated even further.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds like Lucasfilm is worrying over another phantom menace that amounts to little. A beer with some clever wordplay in the label is not a clone; wars in the courtroom over stuff like this is ridiculous.

Then again, I am an optimist. There’s always room in my heart for a new hope that Lucasfilm will be more sensible in the “defending” of their tradmarks.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Clear case of trademark infringement

This is actually a clear case of trademark infringement. The fact that the “Empire” in their name is not Star Wars related, makes it clear what they are doing.

But what are you really saying? There shouldn’t be any trademark protection? Or just no trademark protection for large companies?

I used to read Techdirt a lot. For years. These ridiculous clickbait articles may draw some controversy and views, but they are the reason I don’t read Techdirt anymore.

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