UK, American Breweries Show How The Craft Beer Industry Should Be Handling Trademark Issues

from the how-it's-done dept

Any brief review of the posts we've done here on the craft beer industry's recent heel-turn on all things trademark would give you the impression that there are few good guys any longer and all potential trademark disputes become disputes dialed to eleven in every case. The industry, which has exploded in last twenty years or so, initially developed a tradition for cooperation and congeniality. This was largely to do with the craft industry being heavy on very small startup breweries coupled with the tradition for creative names of brews and artistically inspired label designs. The end result was breweries that quite often swept aside what would be trademark disputes in other industries in favor of camaraderie.

That tradition has unfortunately largely disappeared over the past decade. In its place is what's become the steady corporatization of the craft beer industry, which has dragged expensive legal teams into the ranks. Those legal teams too often treat trademark concerns differently than the old guard did, opting for protectionism and aggression rather than cooperation.

But the old ways are not entirely gone, as demonstrated by UK and American brewery teams that chose instead to work with rather than against one another.

The Loose Cannon Brewery of Abingdon, UK has recently established trademark agreement with Heavy Seas Beer of Baltimore, Maryland as Heavy Seas moves towards selling their beers in the UK and Europe.

Heavy Seas’ flagship brand, Loose Cannon IPA, was potentially going to create confusion with the Loose Cannon Brewery. Happily, the Trademark ownership and use issue has now been fully resolved with Loose Cannon taking over the ownership of the UK trade mark and subsequently granting a license for use to Heavy Seas Beer in the UK. Heavy Seas has granted a mirror license to the Loose Cannon Brewery for the use of the Trademark in the EU.

It's sad how unique this sort of thing has become. Two breweries, between which there was a sensible concern about confusion over trademark rights and branding names, opted to cross-license to one another so that each entity's products could be sold in each market. In addition to demonstrating a congenial approach, it also strikes me that a move like this demonstrates the confidence each brewery has in its own products. This kind of permissive attitude towards what is ostensibly going to be some level of competition only happens when each side is confident that its own fans' love of each beer will keep any real confusion at bay.

Not satisfied with just being cool about all of this, however, the two breweries went a step further to solidify the positive relationship by collaborating on brews as well.

To mark what has been a successful outcome, the two brewers will produce a collaboration brew in 2019 at the Loose Cannon Brewery in Abingdon to introduce Heavy Seas beers to the UK market.

But this needs to be more than a mere feel-good story. It should serve as a template for other craft breweries as to how to interact and resolve potential trademark issues between peers. The craft industry is simply better for outcomes such as these.

And that should be good for everyone.

Filed Under: cooperation, craft beer, eu, licensing, loose cannon, trademark, uk, us
Companies: heavy seas beer, loose cannon brewery


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  1. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 May 2019 @ 7:36pm

    "It should serve as a template for other craft breweries as to how to interact and resolve potential trademark issues between peers."

    I see two problems with this statement, but one of them is not that I don't hope that it would work.

    The first problem is that brewery A could find a partner in brewery B that would be willing to do such an exchange. Many of the trademark issues discussed here have been about US companies vs US companies, and I have a hard time seeing them willing to give up a potential market, no matter how magnanimous, or potentially lucrative that transaction might be. The whole concept of 'giving up a market' is anathema to typical marketers.

    The second problem is the beer itself. I like a fairly wide variety of beers, but insist upon quality in each of them. You and I and those folks over there may think, and taste beers differently, and none of us or them are wrong. People have different tastes and perspectives.

    That Heavy Seas thinks that their beer will be a hit in the UK is awesome. But what if they are wrong? That Loose Cannon thinks that their beers will be a hit in the US is also awesome. But what if they are wrong? That they will co-produce a celebration brew is also awesome, but what if nobody likes it? I like some of the Christmas Ales I have tried, but I wouldn't want to drink them all year.

    The share of market for the top five brewers and importers has changed significantly over the past ten years. Since 2017, more than 9 percent of the market volume has shifted from large brewers and importers to smaller brewers and importers. The continued growth in small, upstart breweries makes the U.S. beer market a dynamic and competitive industry.

    Brewer/Importer
    2008 Share 2018 Share

    Anheuser-Busch Inbev 48.8% 40.8%
    MillerCoors, LLC 29.4% 23.5%
    Constellation 5.3% 9.9%
    Heineken USA 4.2% 3.5%
    Pabst Brewing 2.7% 2.1%
    All Other Domestic and Imports 9.6% 20%
    Total 100% 100%

    (sorry, I cannot make markdown line the columns up, see the linked reference)

    Now some of those big brewery numbers include beers that I might drink, but to a large degree I think that those numbers include a lot of folk who buy due to price and quantity, rather than flavor and quality. They would probably argue differently and proclaim me to be snobbish. They might be right. I might be right. Who is right is not important.

    My point is that whatever beer is produced needs to satisfy a particular market. If that market is local, great. If that market is more widespread also great. Now how to tell the difference? Before one goes after a nationwide, or worldwide trademark one needs to determine if there is a market for 'this particular beer' (or for that matter whatever commodity) before they close out opportunities for others, who may or may not conflate with your brand. Keep them out of your local market, fine, keep them out of markets you have no hope of competing in, not so fine. I know this doesn't necessarily comply with the way the law is written, I am talking about what makes sense.

    And the assumption that your beer is going to be liked everywhere, is well, a bit arrogant. I like IPA's, but not all IPA's. I like Pilsners, but not all Pilsners. I like a bunch of different beer styles, but not all beer styles. I tend not to like Bud, or Miller, or Coors, or Corona (why would one like a beer that requires seasoning, the lime?) or anything Lite, or a bunch of others, but that doesn't mean I won't drink them if there is no other choice. Nor does it mean that anyone else shouldn't.

    Then again, we drove more than an hour from Minneapolis to get leinenkugels from Wisconsin because it wasn't available in Minnesota. That was in the late 1970's. Tastes change. Today I wouldn't cross the street for the Leinenkugels we got back then, however I would be interested in trying something new they have produced.


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