from the mine! dept
This seemingly never-ending trend of trademark disputes in the beer and alcohol industries marches on. What with the explosion of craft breweries throughout the country, and the related adoption of a culture of cleverly-named companies and individual brews, it seems like there are as many court cases and threat letters as there are products on the market. What’s interesting is that most of these conflicts revolve around the very creatively-named beers and companies I mentioned before. But not all of them. Sometimes a company moves to trademark a term so laughably common that it strikes an evil chord throughout the rest of the industry.
Such as when a company like Coopers, a macro-brewery in Australia, sees fit to file for a trademark for “Original Pale Ale.”
Carlton & United Breweries, Lion, Asahi and Thunder Road have opposed a bid by Coopers to trademark ‘Original Pale Ale’. Coopers already held a trademark for Original Pale Ale when used in conjunction with its own brand: Coopers Original Pale Ale. But in February 2013, the brewer applied to extend this protection to cover all usage of the phrase.
You should be able to tell immediately why this has Carlton & United, and I assume other breweries as well, up in arms. First, the term “pale ale” isn’t by itself available for trademark because it doesn’t identify any brand. Instead, it’s a style of brew, one produced by many companies and individuals. It would be like trying to trademark “cheeseburger.” However, if Coopers wants to trademark “Coopers Pale Ale”, or “Coopers Original Pale Ale”, then fine, because it’s identifying the source and everyone else is free to use the other words as they see fit.
Adding “Original” to the trademark to cover the entire beverage industry makes zero sense. First, the word is descriptive in nature. Second, the mark is in use by many other companies already, including Carlton & United, and doesn’t serve as a source identifier. And, finally, no customer is going to be confused by the word into thinking one brew is another brand’s.
A CUB spokesperson said: “CUB understands why Coopers would be trying to achieve this but we respectfully believe the phrase should also be available to other brewers. CUB now has to make its case and it will respect the process whatever the outcome.”
A Lion spokesperson added: “We think it is counterproductive for the beer category for one brand to be able to claim ownership of a beer style.”
And it certainly can’t be said that the originators of trademark law intended on allowing individual companies to lock up generic phrases like this. I would expect the court will inform Coopers that it will have to live with its “Coopers Original Pale Ale” trademark.