Two Years Later, Bell's Brewery Finally Fails To Bully A Tiny Brewery Out Of Its Legitimate Trademark

from the it-tolls-for-thee dept

Nearly three years ago, Bell’s Brewery, whose products I used to buy greedily, decided to oppose a trademark for Innovation Brewing, a tiny operation out of North Carolina. The reasons for the opposition are truly difficult to comprehend. First, Bell’s stated that it uses the slogan “Bottling innovation since 1985” on some merchandise. This was only barely true. The slogan does appear on some bumper stickers that Bell sells and that’s pretty much it. It appears nowhere in any of the brewery’s beer labels or packaging. Also, Bell’s never registered the slogan as a trademark. Bell’s also says it uses the slogan “Inspired brewing” and argues that Innovation’s name could create confusion in the marketplace because it’s somehow similar to that slogan.

This is a good lesson in why trademark bullying of this nature is a pox on any industry derived largely of small players, because it’s only in the past weeks that the Trademark Trials and Appeals Board in Virginia has ruled essentially that Bell’s is full of crap.

The federal Trademark Trials and Appeals Board in Virginia says there is little chance of confusion by consumers and dismissed Bell’s action on Dec. 20.

Bell’s says it is moving on. “We respect the Trademark Office’s decision and look forward to doing business as usual,” the brewery said in an emailed statement to Xpress.

That’s simply not good enough. Innovation is roughly one-sixtieth the size of Bell’s, producing 500 barrels a year, and representing a zero threat to the much larger company. And, yet, for three years Innovation has been tied up in this federal action trying to simply register the name of the brand upon which it built its small business. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, the claims that Bell’s was making were plainly absurd. Those claims included stating that the words “innovation” and “inspired” had the same or similar meanings to the degree the public would be confused. They don’t. It attempted to block a trademark over a slogan it barely uses and never registered. There was never any reason to do any of this.

Yet, we have three years of bullying action. At the end of that bullying, Bell’s gets to waltz away and say it is “moving on”, with the legal costs representing a decimal point on its ledger, whereas Innovation has no such war chest and was almost certainly impeded in its business having to deal with all of this. If that isn’t the kind of thing the legal system should be better designed to handle, I cannot imagine what would be.

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Companies: bell's brewery, innovation brewing

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Comments on “Two Years Later, Bell's Brewery Finally Fails To Bully A Tiny Brewery Out Of Its Legitimate Trademark”

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The Most High Grand apologist for Budweiser says:

greed n. excessive desire for getting or having -- Then "buy greedily" suggests that you're an alcoholic.

You don’t state that won’t buy and consume the evil brand any more, so I assume that your “excessive desire” for alcohol doesn’t pay attention to your alleged outrage.

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Re: greed n. excessive desire for getting or having -- Then "buy greedily" suggests that you're an alcoholic.

Larry Bell is a brilliant brewer. He single-handedly forced the City of Chicago to revise their antiquated beer distribution laws and he makes some truly fine ale.

Sorry to learn his brewery acted like an asshole, but unless you boycott Miles Davis’ music and Woody Allen movies, let us enjoy his beer regardless of where his head is currently located.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: An empty penalty is no different than no penalty

"I object to what you did!"

"But you’re still giving me money?"


"In that case I could not care less about your objection."

His skill/history as a brewer is irrelevant, and does not in any way, shape or form change what the brewery did and the problems they caused another brewery.

You want a company/individual to care what their customers think about them and their actions? Hit them where they can’t just brush it aside, their profits, meaning a boycott/refusal to buy from them anymore is perfectly justified.

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: An empty penalty is no different than no penalty

I have yet to read anything that explains WHY Bell’s did this. If I were to guess based on their long history of giving customers what they want (excellent beer), I would have to say that this seems very odd. Almost as if an idiot lawyer talked them into a foolish course of action.

I’m slow to defend companies, but how often do companies look stupid because they hired an idiot law firm?

I don’t even drink beer anymore (a 22 oz bottle of 11% beer is like drinking a loaf of bread, weightwise), but I am going to need to see a quote from Larry Bell signing off on this idiocy before I condemn Bell’s.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 An empty penalty is no different than no penalty

Why does it matter if he personally signed off on it? Based upon your comments(‘his brewery’) I’m guessing he’s the CEO or something along those lines, and in that case it’s his company, and as such he’s ultimately responsible if he hired a bunch of of idiot and overzealous lawyers and didn’t keep them in check.

The fact that this went on for three years makes it all but impossible to believe that he didn’t know about it, and additionally the fact that it lasted until it was shot down in court would strongly suggest that he didn’t see a problem with what was going on. The only alternative I can think of is that he didn’t know it was going on, and even that doesn’t really help as he would go from knowing and approving to gross negligence in having no idea what his company was doing when it came to legal action involving another company.

If he had/has no power to influence that sort of thing then slamming the brewery is only related to him at the edges, and if if did/does have that power then he deserves to see a hit to his profits because of it.

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 An empty penalty is no different than no penalty

Then maybe try this angle: it’s a local business with very ltd regional distribution, well paid workers and an otherwise good reputation.

I’d like to know more about this legal action because it is totally out of character with the brewery’s reputation. Search through their many offerings, past and present. Show me the sexist names, the racist names. (There aren’t any.)

Something doesn’t add up here. Before I’d slime a small business, I’d need to know exactly what’s going on.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 An empty penalty is no different than no penalty

…where do sexism and/or racism come into it?

Allegations that a company is attempting to abuse trademark law are not allegations that (the people involved with) a company are promoting, permitting, engaging in, or believers in sexism, racism, or any other similar thing.

Even some hypothetical person who managed to be completely without racism or sexism – despite the immense sociocultural pressures which make developing into such a person a virtual impossibility, to say nothing of any biological pressures in that direction which may exist – could still get things wrong in the realm of IP law.

Even if Bell’s Brewery is indeed completely free of any hint of racist or sexist attitudes, that says nothing whatsoever about their views on trademark law.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder if the bully-identifying author even realizes that a federal registration of a trademark holds out the legal possibility that after a set number of years the registrant, now a small company with a geographically limited market, may hold an incontestable trademark of national scope? That cuts against what this site continually espouses.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… What? TD doesn’t have a problem with trademarks in general, the problem is when you have larger companies acting like thugs trying to shut down others using trademarks, and/or making absurd claims in their opposition to trademarks filed for by others.

Exactly what part of this story ‘cuts against what this site continually espouses’?

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