Bell's Brewery Goes After Craft Brewer Over Trademark It Barely Uses & Hasn't Registered

from the well-okay-then dept

It's been an amount of time that can be measured at the level of a nuclear clock, so I guess there must be another story about a dumbass trademark dispute involving a small craft brewery for some reason. I'm not sure what the hell is going on in the beer-making industry that is setting story after story after story about this kind of thing, but it really needs to stop. Too often these disputes seem to be of the silliest nature, with no customer confusion to worry about and only the most intangible similarities being fought over. But this latest story in which Bell's Brewery, a relatively large "craft" brewery, has filed a federal action against an itty bitty little beer-maker over a trademarked phrase it barely uses and hasn't registered might just be the dumbest of them all.

Innovation Brewing of Sylva, N.C. makes only about 500 barrels of beer a year, mostly sold in Jackson County. But size doesn't matter in a tough trademark dispute with the much bigger Bell's Brewery of Kalamazoo, which made more than 310,000 barrels last year. Bell's has filed a federal action against Innovation over the use of its name. Bell's says its unregistered advertising slogan "bottling innovation since 1985" could lead to confusion with customers. While the slogan is used on bumper stickers, it's not present on any of the brewery's beer packaging. Bell's also uses a slogan "inspired brewing" that's been part of the legal complaint that the company believes would be confused with Innovation Brewing's name.
Any use of the slogan "bottling innovation" by Bell's has been so minimal that the folks at Innovation Brewing can't even find examples of it. And, while trademarks don't necessarily need to be registered to be valid, one would think that if the slogan and its similarity (blech...) to the competitor's name were worth a legal claim, so too would it have been worth registering with the USPTO. In the meantime, the legal fees and costs of retaining counsel is preventing Innovation Brewing from buying the actual stuff to run its business, like brewing equipment.

Fortunately, it appears Innovation Brewing isn't entirely alone in this fight.
The Asheville Brewers Alliance, a trade organization representing 45 area breweries and beer-related businesses, has lined up in support of Innovation, a statement said.

"There are many instances where craft breweries have encountered trademark issues and have chosen to work together to resolve their differences," it said. "As an Asheville Brewers Alliance member, we support Innovation Brewing and are hopeful that, in the spirit of collaboration, Bell's Brewery and Innovation Brewing will arrive at an agreement amenable to both parties."
The dream of an amicable end to all this isn't completely pie in the sky, mind you. The craft brewing space and its penchant for creative labels and off-the-wall naming conventions has actually been surprisingly cooperative on this kind of thing. But, then, calling Bell's a "craft brewery" is massively stretching the term to the point of absurdity. Instead, it seems the legal tendancies of larger corporations have tempted the once-smaller company to the dark side of IP bullying. This, mind you, over a 500 barrel a year producing David that poses no threat and almost certainly no confusion with the much larger Goliath. I typically look forward to my Bell's Hopslam every year. This year, maybe not so much.

Filed Under: bottling innovation, trademark
Companies: bell's brewery, innovation brewing


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  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 3:45pm

    > Too often these disputes seem to be of the silliest nature...

    This is exactly the sort of reason why I never bring a beer to a job interview.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 4:08pm

    > we support Innovation Brewing and are hopeful that...

    Allow me to be the voice of cynicism...

    Morale support and $2.50 gets you a cup of coffee. YMMV.
    An affidavit of generalized support won't pay much in the way of lawyer bills.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 4:32pm

    Vote with Your Wallet

    While most of Bell's offerings are too sweet for my tastes, their Director's Bitter back in the late '90's was astoundingly good. Oberon is pretty drinkable, and I have patronized the Bell's brand in restaurants and the beer aisle on occasion until now, especially when I visit K'zoo.

    No more Bell's for me, and I'll spread the word about their asshattery.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Eponymous Coward (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 6:09am

      Re: Vote with Your Wallet

      Right there with you. I think they get a disproportionate amount of love for the quality that they produce. Founders' beats them at every turn.

      They just lost the small amount of business that they had from me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    That One Guy, 18 Mar 2015 @ 5:04pm

    Beer!!!

    Innovation Brewing? Bell's Brewery of Kalamazoo?
    There's only one beer. Duff™ Beer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anonymous, 18 Mar 2015 @ 5:08pm

    how about some journalism?

    Did you at least try to get Bell's side of the story?

    Twitter has their side after a minimal amount of searching:
    https://twitter.com/bellsbrewery

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 5:17pm

    Beer and stupidty go together.

    Like Geigner and labored phrasing: "an amount of time that can be measured at the level of a nuclear clock".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 5:21pm

    I have to admit, if this was about Bell's trying to stop Innovation from using the logo or slogan it would be pretty ridiculous.

    But from their tweets it sounds more like Bell's just doesn't want to be prevented from using the slogan themselves because of a potential Innovation trademark, which seems reasonable.

    /prefers Unibroue anyway

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jay Lahto (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 5:49pm

    "It's been an amount of time that can be measured at the level of a nuclear clock"

    I really hope you mean Atomic Clock, as I'd hate to see Nuclear Armageddon over such a small thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 6:39pm

    When dealing with trademarks and beer, do you test for the likelihood of confusion before or after using the product?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 12:13am

      Re:

      Always after.

      That's when you'll find out that Bud and Coors really are completely the same. Total confusion.

      Or the opposite. That "Highway to Helles" might sound somehow like a "Helles" (which would be a lager). But after using the product and expecting a lager, you'd be so baffled that it's actually an indian pale ale, you won't ever confuse it with a lager.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 8:21pm

    Bell's has filed a federal action against Innovation over the use of its name.
    I can see that one getting kicked out of court by a judge in a hurry. No registration = no federal trademark = no federal action possible, Lanham Act only. Simples!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 10:00pm

      Re:

      Not so “simples.” 15 U.S.C. 1125(a) permits claims on unregistered trademarks. Trademark rights derive from use in commerce, not registration. Registration is helpful but not required.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TM Lawyer, 19 Mar 2015 @ 8:25am

      Re: federal registrations...

      Um, no. You don't need a registration to bring a federal action for trademark infringement. The Lanham Act doesn't require it. I think you may be thinking of copyright (which is entirely different). In a copyright infringement suit you need a registration...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 8:44am

        Re: Re: federal registrations...

        Correct. You can even see it every day in the symbols used: TM indicates that it's an unregistered trademark, and R indicates that it's registered. If you pay attention and start counting, you'll find a whole lot more TMs than Rs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Sheogorath (profile), 20 Mar 2015 @ 7:03pm

        Re: Re: federal registrations...

        No, you don't need a copyright registration to sue. Not unless you wish to claim statutory damages and attorneys fees.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 19 Mar 2015 @ 12:02am

    Pardon my comment, but: Oh for fucks sake! Are these morons serious? Ah, if the USPTO is going to become involved then a brown envelope or two will just about ensure that the little brewery will be forced to back off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    KoD (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 8:37am

    I was surprised to read about my hometown on TD and then disappointed in Bell's. Oberon is some seriously good beer, but it is crap like this that will keep me from drinking it when I go home this summer...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2015 @ 11:58am

    The federal action is about the Innovation Brewing trademark application -- not the slogan. http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pno=91215896&pty=OPP.

    Bell's does have a registered trademark for Inspired Brewing. So the battle is Innovation Brewing vs. Inspired Brewing both for beer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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