Portland Surrenders To Old Town Brewing Over Stag Sign Trademark

from the huzzah dept

For some time, we've been following an odd trademark dispute between the city of Portland and a small brewery, Old Town Brewing, all over a famous city sign featuring a leaping stag. Old Town has a trademark for the image of the sign and uses that imagery for its business and beer labels. Portland, strangely, has pursued a trademark for the very same market and has attempted to invalidate Old Town's mark for the purpose of licensing the image to macro-breweries to fill the municipal coffers. What I'm sure city officials thought would be the quiet bullying of a local company without the breadth of legal resources Portland has at its disposal has instead ballooned into national coverage of that very same fuckery, with local industry groups rushing to the brewery's aid.

The end result of all of this has been several months of Portland officials looking comically bad in the eyes of the public. Of all places, the people of Portland were never going to sit by and let their city run roughshod over a local microbrewery just so that the Budweisers of the world could plaster local iconography over thin, metal cans of pilsner. And now, despite sticking their chins out in response to all of this backlash for these past few months, it seems that the city has finally decided to cave in.

The city has surrendered in a battle over who gets to use the iconic image of a leaping stag from the Portland Oregon sign and will not seek a trademark that would conflict with one already owned by a local brewery. The city will give up on obtaining a trademark that it could license to any beer or alcohol company to use on cans, bottles, glasses, packages or tap handles. In return, Old Town Brewing will allow Portland to grant alcohol companies the right to use the image of the famous sign on local advertising.

It's a good resolution to a dispute that never should have existed. Trademark law has become problematic generally, and in the craft beer industry more specifically, but there was nothing in what Old Town was doing that was improper. The brewery had a local connection to Portland, properly attained a trademark for the image of the sign, and then had to deal with the city pretending that none of that was true. In the end, the city has essentially accepted what Old Town's ownership suggested at the start of all this: go get your trademark, just don't tread into the alcohol market.

Before the negotiations, Milne had faced an uphill battle against the city to defend his trademark. He had advocated for more than a year that the city simply seek a trademark that did not infringe on beer, wine and alcohol. That's exactly what the city has agreed to do now.  Milne will file a letter with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office encouraging the agency to grant Portland's trademark application so long as it does not cross over into the category of beer, wine and alcohol.

And thus ends this David and Goliath story, with Goliath once again slain. Salud.


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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 31 Jan 2018 @ 9:20pm

    Re: Portland "has a local connection" to Portland too.

    isn't Budweiser going to be able to use it, then, over your objection, on "thin, metal cans of pilsner"?

    From the article:

    The city will give up on obtaining a trademark that it could license to any beer or alcohol company to use on cans, bottles, glasses, packages or tap handles. In return, Old Town Brewing will allow Portland to grant alcohol companies the right to use the image of the famous sign on local advertising.

    That means Budweiser could use the sign as part of an advertising campaign, but not as branding on actual cans or bottles of Budweiser.


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