BART, The Train Service, Goes After Brewery Over BART, The Beer

from the paging-bart-the-simpson dept

Maybe, like me, you thought that the Bay Area Rapid Transit system was only good for illegally shutting down cell phone services in its stations to quiet protests that never actually existed. Well, it turns out we were all wrong about that. BART is also good for insanely stupid trademark oppositions. Take, for instance, the recent dispute between the transit group and FiftyFifty Brewing Company, in which the former is attempting to keep the latter from gaining a trademark on its Barrel Aged Really Tasty brew.

According to FiftyFifty owner/CEO Andy Barr, the B.A.R.T. beer has been a regular offering for several years. It has been sold at the brewery and bottled in limited production for California distribution; he has legal label approval in the state. But FiftyFifty is now ready to expand its current production (~1200 barrels per year) and start shipping over state lines, so as Barr puts it, “it was a time for a trademark.” However, one party is not so keen on FiftyFifty’s trademark application for the B.A.R.T. label: Bay Area Rapid Transit, which obviously shares an acronym with the FiftyFifty beer in question. An opposition was filed.

“We were very surprised to get opposition from Bay Area Rapid Transit,” says Barr, pointing out that trains and beer are very different things, unlikely to cause consumer confusion. “Trademarks are for specific categories. You trademark it for beer, ale, porter. The implication is that we came up with that acronym in order to monetize on the fame of Bay Area Rapid Transit — which is not true,” Barr says.

No, it certainly isn’t true. Barr further explains that the acronym was devised as an homage to a dead dog that, when alive, used to run around the brewery plant and entertain the workers within it. Now, I’m not saying that trying to co-opt the intention to name a product after a beloved pooch necessarily makes BART an entity very likely run by Satan himself, but it sure doesn’t help to disavow the notion, does it?

More important is Barr’s correct explanation of how trademarks work and within what parameters they operate. One of the key aspects of a valid trademark is the narrow industry to which it applies. BART, for instance, has a trademark on “BART” for the industries of transit, prints, and publication. I would have to be very drunk to confuse a train with a beer, I think. One would think that this entire opposition must be some kind of mistake, except the BART officials commenting on it think they’re barking up a perfectly valid tree.

“Just as any agency or business does, BART routinely protects its name and registered trademarks,” notes Alicia Trost, Communications Department Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District. “Use of the BART name by unauthorized parties for commercial gain, whether or not they are in the rapid transit business, is a violation of trademark law, and something BART must protect itself against.”

Except, of course, that because we’re talking about completely different industries, and because the source of the BART beer name had nothing to do with the BART transit group, none of the above is correct. No protection is necessary at all. Having a communications person publicly comment that the competitive industry doesn’t factor into the validity of a trademark claim, which is absolutely false, seems like a huge misstep. Unfortunately, even though Barr knows he and FiftyFifty are in the right, he’s facing the realities of our wonderful legal system.

“It blows me away that it would degrade and demean anyone else’s brand value,” he continues, expressing concern about the next steps. “We’re not a deep-pocketed organization … So, the question is how do we stand up for ourselves?”

Here’s hoping David doesn’t fall to Goliath.

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Companies: bart, fiftyfifty

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Comments on “BART, The Train Service, Goes After Brewery Over BART, The Beer”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe they have a point....

Maybe the Bay Area train stations gets a lot of confused people wandering into their stations looking to buy beers….

Or lost people walking into pubs asking directions to the nearest Bay area station and being handed beers instead…

I can see where the confusion will come in…

Ima Dork says:

BART huh?

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that if Bay Area Rapid Transit sincerely wanted to protect their trademark, they’d have been all over that large elephant in the room, meaning, of course, Bart Simpson? Talk about offending the trademark of BART, geez. He’s even on national TV doing it! Every week! And could there be any more serious a risk to the important name BART? Their indifference or reticence, or both, makes me wonder about their good faith in this case of beer, as it were.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: BART huh?

You beat me to it!

Maybe the beer company should ask Fox for some legal support since Bart Simpson may be BART’s next target of a lawsuit. After all, there’s TONS of merchandise with Bart Simpson’s name on it.
Maybe people have been thinking “Bart Simpson” is actually “BART Simpson”, a stealth way to market the train service!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Here ya go, Mr. Pewterschmidt. I made a video. Now nobody will want to smoke weed, because they’ll think Hitler did.”

“Hate to tell you this, Peter, but FOX News called. They own the copyright to Hitler’s likeness and have filed a cease-and-desist order. They don’t want you defaming his character — by making him out to be a pothead.”

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Too much time on their hands

If I remember correctly, BART (the transit system), managed to stuff 250(?) some people into a control room that was designed to be run by 2 people. It is obvious that there are too many people sitting around trying to justify their existence. What better way than to be confused, er completely wrong about trademark law? Running the trains correctly (on time and without hassling their customers) is most certainly beneath them.

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