Miami Brewing Co. Sends Cease And Desist To M.I.A. Beer Co. Over Trademark Concerns

from the sigh dept

We talk a lot about silly trademark disputes here at Techdirt. But the really infuriating trademark stories tend to deal with not just overly broad terms that have been granted marks by the USPTO, but terms that are so broad because they are simple geographic identifiers. The other aspect of trademark disputes that can be face-palm inducing are claims of confusion that are laughable in the extreme. The dispute we're about to discuss mixes both of these, supercharging the frustration to dangerous levels.

Schnebly Redland runs a winery in Homestead, Florida, some forty miles south of Miami. Part of the Schnebly Redland Winery's business includes a brewery, called the Miami Brewing Company. Despite the already broad nature of that brewery's name, it has a trademark in place for its business. In Doral, Florida, some fifteen miles away from Miami, is M.I.A. Beer Company. While both companies have existed cordially together for more than a year, Schnebly recently fired off a cease and desist notice to M.I.A. over trademark concerns, demanding that the latter cease using its name within thirty days and to provide records, within two weeks, of any and all profits it had made.

If Leon didn't comply, the letter states, he'd be "liable for compensatory damages" and "ill-gotten gains," as well as court costs and attorneys' fees. According to Leon, the document came just days before M.I.A.'s anniversary party and was a complete surprise. Both Leon and Peter Schnebly served on the board of the Miami Brewers Alliance, and Leon considered him a friend. Three years earlier, Leon says, Schnebly alluded to potential problems with the similarity of the names and both had a gentlemen's agreement, trusting they wouldn't interfere with each other's business.

"Quite honestly, it felt like a big stab in the back," Leon says. "I'm like, really? It was pretty shocking."

And seemingly dumb, too. The trademark protections offered for the use of a geographic identifier, such as "Miami", are far more thin than a more creatively inspired trademark would be. Thin enough that it strains the mind to think that confusion could be winningly alleged between the terms "Miami Brewing Company" and "M.I.A. Beer Company", even before we get into the many potential meanings of the latter's acronym.

Leon immediately called Schnebly, who said the likeness of the names is too confusing for customers. Leon disagreed because "M.I.A." could mean any number of things, such as "missing in action" or Miami International Airport.

Indeed. In fact, while MIA is a common shortening for the city of Miami in certain circles, such as on score overlays for sports broadcasts, the acronym M.I.A. is probably more commonly associated with "missing in action" than it is anything else. Even with the proximity to Miami likely being a factor in the name, for a trademark based so heavily on a geographic area, it seems likely that the differences between M.I.A. Beer company and Miami Brewing Company would be enough to ward off the claims. The packaging and logos for each company, it should be noted, are distinct and not at all similar, making customer confusion a non-issue.

Yet Leon must certainly be extra annoyed by all of this, having gone through this kind of trademark tussle once before.

Leon became somewhat of a trademark expert when he started M.I.A. Brewing — originally called Most Wanted Brewery. He changed the name after discovering that Kansas City-based High Plains Distillery makes a Most Wanted vodka that could've caused a potential conflict.

Such is the state of things in the craft brewing world, unfortunately.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2016 @ 11:07pm

    Miami. MIA. M.I.A.

    The differences are obvious. Period, period, period.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2016 @ 11:54pm

    Miami Brewing is about to lose its trademark

    Since they insist on attacking others over nebulous claims, they most likely are going to lose the Miami name all together.

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

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 4:00am

      Re: Miami Brewing is about to lose its trademark

      that would be just desserts, but i would be curious to know if that has ever actually happened...

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

      • icon
        Dark Helmet (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 6:00am

        Re: Re: Miami Brewing is about to lose its trademark

        It absolutely happens. The way it works is that the organization being attacked by the holder of the overly broad trademark can respond by seeking to invalidate the trademark entirely. The dust up between a Kentucky distillery and the U of Kentucky featured this kind of petition, though I don't believe it was successful in that instance....

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

  • identicon
    QuantumForce, 21 Jul 2016 @ 6:04am


    Who is Leon? The name is mentioned 10 times, but only by itself, never with another name. The name is presumably the last name of the owner of the M.I.A. Beer Company, but if so, his first name is never mentioned. Or is Leon a single name, like Cher or Madonna?

    Perhaps he's a Nexus-6 model Replicant... (But then, even the Replicant had a last name: Kowalski.)

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

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 7:25am

      Re: Leon?

      Marco? Who's Marco?

      All occurrences of "Leon" are in the blockquoted sections, so i imagine that referring to the relevant link (or context, because clearly he is a legally relevant person at M.I.A)..

      In the letter obtained by New Times, Schnebly demands that M.I.A. owner Eddie Leon stop using the trademark "MIA Brewing Company"

      Eddie! He's Eddie Leon. The owner. Now you know who he is.

      I think he should just go with "Leon" to avoid confusion. He can change the name of the company to this, also. Gonna get me a cold six of Leon.

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

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 7:07am

    Not from Miami

    I'm not from Miami, so I may be missing some local meanings to all of this, but never in a million years would I think that "Miami Brewing Co." and "M.I.A. Beer Company" were in any way associated. They are miles apart.

    That's just bizarre.

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 8:14am

    why work for your money when you can try and bully someone else into giving you their money.

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

  • identicon
    Raalph, 21 Jul 2016 @ 9:27am

    Use it or lose it.

    Isn't it true though, that if you don't vigorously defend or appear to attempt to defend your trademarks in a timely manner, you are much more likely to lose the right to defend it later as well as even losing the right to renew your own trademark because you did not defend it? No doubt most of these trademark disputes are started at advice or will of legal council. The very existence of trademark demands that you will have to defend it.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 9:35am

      Re: Use it or lose it.

      There is a certain truth to this, although it's often overstated in common conversations. It is not true, for instance, that you have to sue in order for it to count as defending your mark in this way.

      For instance, if you and another company with a similar mark have come to an arrangement with each other, that counts as "defense".

      However, it's pretty hard to see how this is an example of a case where a defense is needed. Unless I'm missing something (always possible), the alleged trademark infringement is nonexistent. Or, at the very most, extremely difficult to see.

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

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 3:10pm

    Best to be safe

    Name it Beer Beer

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

  • identicon
    Eponymous Coward, 22 Jul 2016 @ 6:01am

    Interestingly, I was at a craft beer shop last night where some M.I.A. products were sold. And nearly everyone there - including the proprietor - was referring to them as "Miami Brewing" instead of "M.I.A. Beer". So, it seems like there may actually be a case here for brand confusion.

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

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