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University Of Idaho Sends Cease And Desist Over Vandal Beer Business Name

from the beer-me! dept

There is something about the beer and liquor industries that seems to attract unfortunate trademark disputes. The craft beer industry in particular has been recently plagued with these disputes, in large part due to the growth that industry has undergone coupled with once-small craft breweries going corporate and retaining aggressive legal teams. Many of the disputes are intra-industry, with one brewery attacking another over a perceived trademark issue.

But that’s not always the case. Occasionally we also see a trademark dispute needlessly erupt from a source outside the beer industry. That is most certainly the case with the University of Idaho, which has the mascot name “The Vandals”, for some reason sending a cease and desist notice to an alumnus looking to open his Vandal Beer company.

The University of Idaho sent a letter this week to Vandal Beer owner R. Austin Nielsen asking him to stop using the Vandal Beer name, citing trademark infringement, according to Jodi Walker, UI director of communications.

A story on the new brew brand ran in both the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and Lewiston Tribune a few days ago.

Nielsen said last week he plans on releasing his first Vandal Beer, gold pale ale, in August in the Moscow area, as well as Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene. He said it will be produced in the Coeur d’Alene area starting in July.

Now, Nielsen graduated from UI and says the idea for his brewery business came when he was still enrolled at the school. UI, meanwhile, says that Nielson approached the school with the business idea initially in what was to be a partnership with the school. That partnership never materialized, obviously, and Nielson went on to start his Vandal Beer business anyway. The school, apparently, believes using the Vandal name alone is trademark infringement and will cause confusion.

Little in that claim makes any sense, however, as the branding for the school and brewery look nothing alike, and it’s safe to say that the trademarks for which the school has registered the term “vandal”, of which there are many, do not include selling alcohol. That puts Nielson’s business in a market in which the University of Idaho is not playing: beer sales. Not to mention the proactive steps Nielsen has taken to avoid such confusion.

His website, which is still active at www.vandal.beer, states Vandal Beer is not affiliated with the university.

Nielsen said he will donate 10 percent of all Vandal Beer sales to UI scholarships and a fund he plans to start aimed at helping nonprofits, businesses and individuals who fall in line with Vandal Beer’s mission of making a positive impact in local communities.

Layer on top of that the simple fact that beer-slinging and education are in wildly different marketplaces and you have to wonder what exactly UI thinks its claim for trademark infringement would be based on? The only potential issue I could see is if the school managed to produce members of the local population who were confused into thinking there was some affiliation there. If it doesn’t have that evidence, it’s not as though the school gets to lock up the word “Vandal” for its own use within its own geographic area.

On the other hand, a startup versus a university is an example of why trademark bullying tends to work.

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Companies: university of idaho, vandal beer

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Comments on “University Of Idaho Sends Cease And Desist Over Vandal Beer Business Name”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Searching USPTO’s database, I see active registrations for Vandal/Vandals as it relates to:

Athletic Gear
LED Lighting
Restaurant Services
Entertainment (Band Name)
College Sporting Events

…and many more. Of those I checked, only the bolded ones are registered to UI. It seems to me that either there’s a whole boatload of conflict… or there isn’t any at all.

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Anonymous Coward says:

The other trend this displays is the growing bullshit which universities (public ones, at that!) have been involving themselves in since the 80’s and 90’s. It’s only getting worse. Add in the ridiculous tuition they now charge, and it seems like a good case to replace college and university boards with entirely non-business people, and realign their administrations and lawyers with education and reality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

hmmmm that might actualy give us a clue to what kind of thinking was going on here.

If they wanted people to continue paying them enrollment fees and such, but didn’t want to have to pay teacher to… actually teach… yeah I can see them heading in that direction (however I suspect that is not what you were saying).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No. What’s asked for is an organization or even just a procedural statute that punishes the bringing of lawsuits that have no merit or standing.

In theory, this exists in slightly over half of US states where the Bar Association is granted a legal monopoly on provision of legal representation in exchange for policing members of the legal profession. In practice, the Bar Association does not actually police its membership at all.

David says:

Sorry, don't follow you here.

"Vandal" clearly is a rather generic term, but "Vandal beer" equally clearly has not been named independently but as a reference to the "Vandals" team.


Nielsen said he will donate 10 percent of all Vandal Beer sales to UI scholarships and a fund he plans to start aimed at helping nonprofits, businesses and individuals who fall in line with Vandal Beer’s mission of making a positive impact in local communities.

does not help thwarting that impression. Quite the contrary.

So if "vandals" has been granted a trademark in the context of the university and Nielsen clearly is using "vandals" in a reference to the university, I don’t see how this is in any way overstepping the range of trademark protection.

It may be a stupid move to make, but it doesn’t look anything like going after use of a generic overprotected term that coincidentally has been used in an unrelated field without intent to reference the trademark.

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