by Timothy Geigner

Filed Under:
champagne, trademark

English Brewer And French Wine Group In Trademark Dispute Over 'Champ'

from the stop-wining dept

The Comite Champagne, or CIVC, has never bothered to pretend it is anything other than a jealous protector of the word "champagne." The trade group and its winery members have made quite a name for themselves ensuring that nobody else anywhere could possibly market a product that in any way suggests it is champagne. This is supposedly done to ensure the reputation of wine from the Champagne region of France remains as sparkling as the product, but predictably devolves into the kind of protectionist racket too often seen in trademark cases.

The most recent version of this is that the CIVC attempted to keep an English brewery from selling a brew entitled "Champale."

The beer, which is made using "Champagne-style yeast" and is sold in sparkling wine-style bottles with a traditional wired cork – has been made by Mersea Island Brewery in Essex. Brewery owner Roger Barber – who also owns Mersea Island Vineyard nextdoor with his wife, Jackie – submitted a trademark request for Champale to the UK trademark authorities two years ago. Almost as soon as the request was submitted, Barber received a letter form the CIVC informing him that there would be "serious and costly legal consequences" should the name be used. The CIVC said that 'champ' was a familiar term for Champagne, according to The Telegraph. However Barber argued that in England 'champ' was short for 'champion'.
A couple of things to say about these details. First, selling the beer in champagne-style bottles might raise the eye of some, questioning whether this was done to confuse customers. I think we can be certain that it was not. For one thing, it's quite common for craft beers to be sold in corked bottles, a la wine bottles of all shapes and sizes, and champagne style bottles are only slightly different from these. For another, imagine the blowback that would ensue if a beer brewer actually was trying to fool customers intending on buying sparkling wine into buying beer instead. That's not a business strategy; it's an attempt at business self-immolation. Instead, the use of the corked bottle was likely a jaunty reference to the beer's name.

As is the name of the brew itself. Champale is a portmanteau with multiple meanings, including not only a slight reference to champagne, but also, as the brewer notes, the word "champion." Mersea Island Brewery's attempt to claim that the name of the beer has nothing to do with champagne seems silly, but the nodding reference to sparkling wine doesn't necessarily mean the brand is suddenly infringing. Again, we are brought back to whether or not customers will actually be confused about any of this, and I think it's overwhelmingly likely that they won't.

The court in this case agrees.
The trademark authorities upheld Barber's argument and decided that Champagne had no special claim to the word 'champ'.

"We put in the trademark request but got a letter from the French almost immediately telling us that we could not use the name and if we did, there would be serious and costly legal consequences," Barber told the Telegraph. "But we weren't about to give in so we argued our case and eventually won. We bottled the first champale in 2013 so it now has the right bottle age and is ready to be sold – and drunk."
I think this one was close enough to not warrant beating CIVC over the head for disputing the mark... except that the bullying nature of the letter it sent makes it hard to go even this easy on them. There are ways to protect trademarks, even in cases where a true belief of infringement might exist, and not come off as the playground kid that enjoys pushing others in the dirt. But, c'est la vie, I suppose, and merci beaucoup to a court system allowing yet another craft beer to be sold and drunk. Inebriation is, after all, the most important thing here.

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