Moosehead Vs. Mus Knuckle: The Most Canadian Trademark Spat Ever

from the eh? dept

We've been talking about the insanity occurring in the beer industry regarding trademark for quite some time now. If you haven't been following along, the short version of this is that as the craft beer revolution has exploded the number of breweries taking part in the industry, so too has it exploded the number of trademark spats within it. In some senses, we should have seen this coming. Given the number of new players in the market with the limited linguistic resources available with which those players could name their companies and products, perhaps it was somewhat inevitable that some of the companies involved would try to lean on trademark law to fend off what they saw as impeding competition with too-close brand names. That said, many of these conflicts fail to live up to the purpose of trademark law, many of them giving barely even a nod towards an actual concern over customer confusion. Instead, protectionism reigns.

That seems to be the case in a spat between two Canadian breweries, with Moosehead Brewery claiming that the much smaller District Brewing Company's Müs Knuckle brew is too close in name and therefore infringing of the former's trademark.

Moosehead and Müs Knuckle are two breweries in a battle over trademarks. Short version, Moosehead says that Müs Knuckle is too close to their trademark for beer. The idea is that Müs Knuckle could be confused for a Moosehead product, or at least that’s what Moosehead thinks, and that’s why they are going after the smaller, Saskatchewan-based brewery.

The case is a bit of a stretch, largely due to a lot of the specific choices that Müs Knuckle has made. The packaging is not very similar outside of the glass used, the Regina company going with a predominantly blue label design in a diamond shape, whereas Moosehead is oval, green, and has a moose as part of the logo itself. The fact that Müs is also deliberately misspelled is another aesthetic choice that works to the advantage of the smaller company, it can be argued that they are trying to distance themselves from their more established competitor by stylizing their name.
Left out of the analysis above is the, um, colorful connotation of the term "moose knuckle", the explanation of which I'll allow you to discover for yourself should you need to. What the above should indicate to you is that this trademark action is all about the word "moose", including variations of the word that are entirely made up, such as "müs", which isn't a real word. Beyond that word, nearly everything else to do with the packaging and trade dress is different, save for them both being in a green bottle. Which, you know, how many types of bottles can you use for a beer? So, the question to be answered here is whether customers will find themselves confused into thinking two different breweries selling beer that incorporate differently spelled versions of the word "moose" are actually the same, despite everything else to do with the packaging of the products.

Looking at the trade dress of both side by side, I would say the question is easily answered.



Confused? Yeah, I didn't think so. In addition to having different fonts, colors, label shapes, names, and spellings, Moosehead includes and image of a moose's head, while Müs Knuckle doesn't include any images of a moose knuckle, because that would be porn. The original post appears to agree.

It’s our natural inclination to go for the underdog in cases like this, but in this case it’s the right instinct. The reason is that the Müs Knuckle brand is far enough out from the design and image of Moosehead that it’s clear this is a very flimsy case, as well as a case that is meant to push just how far the larger brand can take their trademark. It’s also a case where the intended purpose of the trademark – reducing consumer confusion – is being used to push competition in the sidelines. A smaller company, Müs Knuckle would have difficulty paying for a massive re-branding, especially as it would have to spend a great deal of effort trying to get their audience to recognize the new name and package. It could be a death blow to a brand that is quietly establishing itself, and a blow caused by a brand that is not substantially similar to the new product.
Expect this dispute to meet a quick demise. If not, then good luck to the Canadian brewery industry in developing new brands.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Zonker, Feb 5th, 2016 @ 4:19pm

    Left out of the analysis above is the, um, colorful connotation of the term "moose knuckle", the explanation of which I'll allow you to discover for yourself should you need to.
    Can't... unsee... Google... image... results...

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

  2. icon
    Paul Renault (profile), Feb 5th, 2016 @ 5:18pm

    THESE guys have a much stronger claim than Moosehead, eh.

    http://www.mooseknucklescanada.com/
    Warning - holy carp, they're expensive!

    or these guys:
    http://www.mooseknucklellc.com/
    Warning - do you really want to breathe THAT in?

    or these guys:
    http://www.yellowpages.com/austin-tx/mip/moose-knuckle-pub-14640938
    Warning - They're expensive, apparently.

    or these guys:
    http://www.mooseknucklebrothers.com/
    Warning - turn the volume down, if you're at work.

    or this guy:
    http://www.mooseknuckledesigns.com/
    Warning - do NOT carry this onto a plane.

    or a hundred other companies....

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

  3. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 6th, 2016 @ 7:24pm

    Eh?

    I thought beer + green bottle == Carlsberg.

    As one who far prefers Scotch, I don't very much care about any of this, but agree Moosehead is certainly abusing trademark law merely for bullying protectionist reasons. If I were a beer drinker, this would make me want to try Mus just to hoist a middle finger at Moosehead.

    Aside: why's anyone buying bottled beer? The empty cans are far lighter and I expect far easier to recycle. Melting that much glass vs. paper thin aluminum? Not to mention, drop a can and you pick it up. Drop a bottle, and you'll be discovering glass splinters with your feet for months/years.

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

  4. icon
    klaus (profile), Feb 8th, 2016 @ 12:25am

    Re: Eh?

    "...drop a can and you pick it up"

    Woah there. I accidentally nudged a can of draughtflow Guiness off my fridge shelf over xMas - it hit the deck, the top exploded, and I was cleaning The Black Stuff out of my fridge for the next 2 hours.

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

  5. icon
    crade (profile), Feb 8th, 2016 @ 9:26am

    The beauty about being a large company is you don't actually have to win the lawsuit to shut down your competition, you just have to make it expensive for them

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

  6. icon
    Drawoc Suomynona (profile), Feb 8th, 2016 @ 10:10am

    "Beyond that word, nearly everything else to do with the packaging and trade dress is different..." Right. But the word MOOSE is the real issue, so what does that matter?
    MOOSEHEAD has a strong case and would win in court if it goes that far, but it won't. It's not like there are lots of beers with MOOSE in the name being sold in Canada. As far as I can tell, there's one, and it's quite famous. And MOOSE is not at all descriptive of the product and would be considered a strong trademark. The spelling difference of "moose" as "müs" is meaningless. It is phonetically the same, and that is how a court would see it. They should have picked a different name.

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

  7. identicon
    BigKeithO, Feb 8th, 2016 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Eh?

    Bottling lines are much cheaper than canning lines for a small craft brewery. It is pretty rare to see a small brewery even offer cans, tends to be something only the macro's can afford.

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

  8. identicon
    BigKeithO, Feb 8th, 2016 @ 12:25pm

    Re:

    Sure, I guess? How do you justify your argument when you include the entire name rather than just cherry picking part of it? Even phonetically it all falls apart comparing the entire name; Moosehead <> Mooseknuckle.

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

  9. icon
    Drawoc Suomynona (profile), Feb 8th, 2016 @ 1:06pm

    cherry picking?

    You mean "cherry picking" the word that is the same in both trademarks? That's the part that is confusing. If we were talking about ELKHEAD beer, then I'd be talking about the "HEAD" part.

    You might also note that HEAD and KNUCKLE are body parts, making for an even closer comparison of the marks.

    Seriously now, MOOSEHEAD has been protecting their mark for a while now, so this is nothing new, nor out of the ordinary... http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/moosehead-brewery-rights-take-fizz-out-of-stack-s-moose-beer-1 .2847466

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

  10. icon
    Drawoc Suomynona (profile), Feb 8th, 2016 @ 1:08pm

    Re: THESE guys have a much stronger claim than Moosehead, eh.

    Do any of them make beer?

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

  11. icon
    crade (profile), Feb 8th, 2016 @ 4:25pm

    Re:

    Yeah just like how no one can make a cartoon Mouse or Duck now because disney has a trademark on Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck right? You couldn't have like Mighty Mouse or Daffy Duck or something, Disney could shut them down because it uses a common animal name that is part of Disney's trademark. Makes complete sense. The only reason they haven't been shut down is because they didn't bother to go to court over it. They should have picked different names for those characters because those animals are reserved...

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

  12. icon
    Drawoc Suomynona (profile), Feb 9th, 2016 @ 8:02am

    @crade

    It seems you may be mixing apples and oranges, or trademarks and copyrights.

    There are probably lots of people using the image of a moose for their trademarks in Canada, and there are certainly other trademarks using the word "moose" in Canada, (just as surely as there are MOUSE and DUCK trademarks), but the people at MOOSEHEAD seem to be the only people using, and registering trademarks, for "MOOSE" for beer for many years, and they have protected their well known mark and prevented others form using the MOOSE trademark for beer.

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

  13. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 16th, 2016 @ 10:42am

    Re: Re: Eh?

    They can also be refilled, yes?

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

  14. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 16th, 2016 @ 10:45am

    Re:

    But the word MOOSE is the real issue, so what does that matter?

    Considering that "Moose" appears on only one of the two products...

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


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