Canadian Brewery Changes Name Of Brew Due To Peanut Butter Company Bully That Doesn't Ship In Canada

from the drunk-or-nuts? dept

We’ve been talking about the trademark crisis facing the craft brewing industry for some time. To recap, an industry explosion coupled with the habit of that industry to come up with creative and referential names for its products has collided with trademark attacks coming both from within and outside of the industry. The industry, which once had a quite permissive and fraternal approach to intellectual property, has since become corporatized. New entrants to the market, therefore, face challenges with how to name their craft beers without facing legal threats.

This is where it’s worth repeating that trademark law is chiefly designed to keep the public from being confused as to the source of affiliations of a good or service. In other words, the brand name of a product shouldn’t fool the public into thinking it came from somewhere it did not. That reality makes it quite frustrating to see Off Track Brewing agree to change the name of one of its signature brews due to threats issued by a peanut butter brand.

When the guys behind Off Track Brewing came up with a stout beer, using real peanut butter as the key ingredient, they needed a name.

“We were brainstorming one day, and Jon just said, ‘You know what, Damn Skippy, it’s just jumping out to me, it’d be a really good name,'” said Allan MacKay of Off Track Brewing in Bedford, N.S.

You already know what happened. Damn Skippy jumped in popularity, leading some to comment on the brew on social media. There, whatever legal team the Skippy peanut butter people had contracted with took notice and fired off a cease and desist notice to Off Track. It never got to the litigation level, as Off Track agreed to change the name of the brew. Normally, this is where our post would point out that the beer-buying public is certainly not going to confuse a creatively named peanut butter stout beer as having anything to do with Skippy brands, not to mention that the two products are in wildly different market arenas. All of which ought to have been sufficient to push back on the C&D and even for Off Track to have its day in court, if it wished.

But even if you don’t agree with my assessment above, exactly how much potential confusion in the buying public could there be when that same Canadian public can’t even buy Skippy peanut butter?

Even though Skippy peanut butter was discontinued in Canada two years ago — months before the brewery opened — the owners decided to give in after consulting their lawyer.

“We’re gonna switch it up, so it’s not a big loss,” said MacKay. “The beer stays the same, which is good.”

Part of the requirement to hold a valid trademark is that it be in use in the marketplace for commercial purposes. The Skippy people appear to very much be not using it in Canadian commerce. How, therefore, could there be any potential for customer confusion? And why, for the love of all that is peanut-buttery, did Skippy undertake this bullying to begin with?

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Companies: hormel, off track brewing

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Comments on “Canadian Brewery Changes Name Of Brew Due To Peanut Butter Company Bully That Doesn't Ship In Canada”

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jonr (profile) says:

Not as weak as some similar stories...

I’m going to give Skippy half a point here, because unlike some of the other trademark stories that have been covered here, there is actually peanut butter used in the beer, and someone could theoretically think, given the name, that the peanut butter used is Skippy — similar to how Oreo has licensed their trademark for candy bars and pudding. However, the "not currently sold in Canada" aspect does still make this a trademark bully situation. Plus, the graphic design, if you can call it that (a simple black-on-white block lettered label) in no way resembles the peanut butter (yes, I watched the linked video to find that out — along with the new name, "Illuminutti").

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not as weak as some similar stories...

However, the "not currently sold in Canada" aspect does still make this a trademark bully situation.

I’m in Canada, and I’m surprised to hear it’s not sold in Canada. Apparently it was only discontinued two years ago. I certainly wouldn’t conclude that just because I haven’t seen it in stores recently, the brewery couldn’t have gotten some. In general, it’s extremely common for manufacturers to use foreign products in their supply chains, and customers don’t know where their products are made (i.e., for all I know this could have been an American beer made with American peanut butter).

Michael (profile) says:

In related news, the Illuminati has now sent a C&D to the brewery to stop them from using the name "Illuminutti".

When contacted for comment, the Illuminati representative told us that selling craft beer and secretly controlling governments both venture into t-shirt sales and they were concerned that consumers would think they were endorsing the beer or brewery.

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