University Of Idaho Sends Cease And Desist Over Vandal Beer Business Name

from the beer-me! dept

There is something about the beer and liquor industries that seems to attract unfortunate trademark disputes. The craft beer industry in particular has been recently plagued with these disputes, in large part due to the growth that industry has undergone coupled with once-small craft breweries going corporate and retaining aggressive legal teams. Many of the disputes are intra-industry, with one brewery attacking another over a perceived trademark issue.

But that's not always the case. Occasionally we also see a trademark dispute needlessly erupt from a source outside the beer industry. That is most certainly the case with the University of Idaho, which has the mascot name "The Vandals", for some reason sending a cease and desist notice to an alumnus looking to open his Vandal Beer company.

The University of Idaho sent a letter this week to Vandal Beer owner R. Austin Nielsen asking him to stop using the Vandal Beer name, citing trademark infringement, according to Jodi Walker, UI director of communications.

A story on the new brew brand ran in both the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and Lewiston Tribune a few days ago.

Nielsen said last week he plans on releasing his first Vandal Beer, gold pale ale, in August in the Moscow area, as well as Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene. He said it will be produced in the Coeur d’Alene area starting in July.

Now, Nielsen graduated from UI and says the idea for his brewery business came when he was still enrolled at the school. UI, meanwhile, says that Nielson approached the school with the business idea initially in what was to be a partnership with the school. That partnership never materialized, obviously, and Nielson went on to start his Vandal Beer business anyway. The school, apparently, believes using the Vandal name alone is trademark infringement and will cause confusion.

Little in that claim makes any sense, however, as the branding for the school and brewery look nothing alike, and it's safe to say that the trademarks for which the school has registered the term "vandal", of which there are many, do not include selling alcohol. That puts Nielson's business in a market in which the University of Idaho is not playing: beer sales. Not to mention the proactive steps Nielsen has taken to avoid such confusion.

His website, which is still active at www.vandal.beer, states Vandal Beer is not affiliated with the university.

Nielsen said he will donate 10 percent of all Vandal Beer sales to UI scholarships and a fund he plans to start aimed at helping nonprofits, businesses and individuals who fall in line with Vandal Beer’s mission of making a positive impact in local communities.

Layer on top of that the simple fact that beer-slinging and education are in wildly different marketplaces and you have to wonder what exactly UI thinks its claim for trademark infringement would be based on? The only potential issue I could see is if the school managed to produce members of the local population who were confused into thinking there was some affiliation there. If it doesn't have that evidence, it's not as though the school gets to lock up the word "Vandal" for its own use within its own geographic area.

On the other hand, a startup versus a university is an example of why trademark bullying tends to work.

Filed Under: r. austin nielsen, trademark, vandals
Companies: university of idaho, vandal beer


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2019 @ 8:35pm

    Searching USPTO's database, I see active registrations for Vandal/Vandals as it relates to:

    Cars
    Bath/Body/Makeup
    T-shirts/hats/sweatshirts
    Athletic Gear
    LED Lighting
    Herbicides
    Restaurant Services
    Entertainment (Band Name)
    College Sporting Events
    Cigars

    ...and many more. Of those I checked, only the bolded ones are registered to UI. It seems to me that either there's a whole boatload of conflict... or there isn't any at all.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      icon
      wishhub (profile), 26 Jun 2019 @ 1:15am

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2019 @ 8:35pm

    The other trend this displays is the growing bullshit which universities (public ones, at that!) have been involving themselves in since the 80's and 90's. It's only getting worse. Add in the ridiculous tuition they now charge, and it seems like a good case to replace college and university boards with entirely non-business people, and realign their administrations and lawyers with education and reality.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 6:58am

      Re:

      It is their attempt to stop educating the unwashed masses, apparently it makes them feel inferior or something.

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

    • identicon
      Annonymouse, 26 Jun 2019 @ 7:54am

      Re:

      What?

      Are you suggesting that the us universities downsize their administration and change their business model to purely education like those european hippies that don't have sportsball teams and tuition fees?

      Thats cazy talk.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 12:47am

    Maybe UI is confused about what universities do?

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

    • icon
      Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 26 Jun 2019 @ 4:10am

      Re:

      Maybe UI wish to brand themselves as a party school?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 4:18am

        Re: Re:

        hmmmm that might actualy give us a clue to what kind of thinking was going on here.

        If they wanted people to continue paying them enrollment fees and such, but didn't want to have to pay teacher to... actually teach... yeah I can see them heading in that direction (however I suspect that is not what you were saying).

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Jun 2019 @ 1:18am

    If only there was some sort of offical body that looked at these kinds of filings & punished the lawyers who brought them.
    So very tired of the well we have to defend it or else!!!
    No your trademark doesn't cover beer, you have no case, you should fire your lawyer.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 3:18am

      Re:

      Soooo you want an organization that will punish people for engaging in zero (or less) critical thinking before the start litigation (or threats of ... since I think an C&D is a implied threat if they some how didn't put it in the letter)?

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

      • identicon
        TFG, 26 Jun 2019 @ 9:02am

        Re: Re:

        No. What's asked for is an organization or even just a procedural statute that punishes the bringing of lawsuits that have no merit or standing.

        That a lack of critical thinking beforehand may have resulted in the lawsuit being brought is irrelevant.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 11:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          No. What's asked for is an organization or even just a procedural statute that punishes the bringing of lawsuits that have no merit or standing.

          In theory, this exists in slightly over half of US states where the Bar Association is granted a legal monopoly on provision of legal representation in exchange for policing members of the legal profession. In practice, the Bar Association does not actually police its membership at all.

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

  • identicon
    David, 26 Jun 2019 @ 1:41am

    Sorry, don't follow you here.

    "Vandal" clearly is a rather generic term, but "Vandal beer" equally clearly has not been named independently but as a reference to the "Vandals" team.

    And

    Nielsen said he will donate 10 percent of all Vandal Beer sales to UI scholarships and a fund he plans to start aimed at helping nonprofits, businesses and individuals who fall in line with Vandal Beer’s mission of making a positive impact in local communities.

    does not help thwarting that impression. Quite the contrary.

    So if "vandals" has been granted a trademark in the context of the university and Nielsen clearly is using "vandals" in a reference to the university, I don't see how this is in any way overstepping the range of trademark protection.

    It may be a stupid move to make, but it doesn't look anything like going after use of a generic overprotected term that coincidentally has been used in an unrelated field without intent to reference the trademark.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2019 @ 1:55am

    Vandal, a person who needlessly destroys, defaces, or damages other people's property.

    I Guess that makes the University vandals.

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

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 26 Jun 2019 @ 3:51am

    Different Markets

    the simple fact that beer-slinging and education are in wildly different marketplaces

    Did you ever attend college? It has been some years for me, but unless things have changed in an unlikely manner, you should be aware of the difficulty of distinguishing the two, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings.

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

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 26 Jun 2019 @ 7:57am

    There is something about the beer and liquor industries that seems to attract unfortunate trademark disputes.

    This can be generalized: There is something about a substance known to cause both short- and long-term damage to the brain that causes people to act stupid.

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


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