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.

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


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  1. 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!

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