December 6, 2018

Could A Trademark Dispute Kill Your Most Popular Beer?

beer marketing trademarks yellow belly

Trademarks are serious business. Trademarks in consumer products like beer are even more serious. Getting it right can mean raging success. Getting it wrong can mean your cult beer that is driving your growth can embroil your brewery in a gut wrenching trademark dispute with Cease and Desist letters covering every surface.

A recent article in American Craft Beer highlights the risks of weak trademark and name research in craft beer.

A coveted Imperial Stout with a rabid following in the United Kingdom as well as in Europe may be discontinued due to a trademark dispute with another UK brewery.

Here’s the deal…

Yellow Belly, an 11% collaboration between the UK’s Buxton Brewery and Sweden’s Omnipollo, was first brewed in 2014 as part of Siren Brewing’s Rainbow Project Challenge where 14 breweries paired up and were tasked with creating a beer inspired by the colors of the rainbow.

Buxton and Omnipollo who drew ‘yellow’ interpreted the word as referencing cowardice, particularly political cowardice. And according to the Drinks Business the breweries developed Yellow Belly an “11% peanut butter and biscuit Imperial stout (brewed with neither peanuts nor biscuits) – and packaged it in paper deliberately designed to denounce organizations such as the Klu Klux Klan.”

That beer, which is now released annually and become a HUGE international success (think 3 Floyd’s Dark Lord or Surly Darkness) is now embroiled in a trademark dispute that could spell its end.

Geoff Quinn, owner of Buxton Brewery and Henok Fentie, head brewer for Omnipollo, told the BBC that they would avoid getting involved in any legal disputes.

While many have defended Batemans’ right to protect its trademark, fans of Buxton and Omnipollo’s beer have branded its actions as “childish”,“out of touch” and an attempt “to grab free publicity”.

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Yesterdays announcement about YELLOW BELLY (11%) being discontinued whipped up a small storm🌪🍺Beer is our life and thank you for sharing every aspect of it with us🙏🏽®️Some background: Life isn’t black or white and after several attempts to come to an agreement the European trademark owner didn’t see a way for us to co-exist. On a positive note the American trademark owner (who has in no way been involved in this dispute) @sapsuckerfarms ❤️ got in touch last night to say that they are 100% cool w us using the name in the US. Right now we are focusing entirely on fulfilling the global 2019 vintage that is already in tank and will regroup to decide what the next chapter will look like after that. Don’t hate, innovate. #omnipollo #beereverything @buxtonbrewery

A post shared by OMNIPOLLO®️👄 (@omnipollo) on

Trademark disputes in the beer industry are not usual. It is a wild growth industry with a bit of a rebellious nature. So far this year we have seen Sony take on California brewery Knee Deep Brewing over its Breaking Bad beer, MillerCoors and Stone Brewing battle it out, BrewDog finally win its appeal against the Elvis Presley estate, Portland’s Shipyard Brewing lose a fight against a Missouri-based brewer Logboat Brewing Co. and MillerCoors take on South Korean brewer HiteJinro.

Very few small breweries will be able to defend against or win a trademark dispute with their limited resources. It goes without saying that you can not do enough research on your beer names, beer labels or brand names BEFORE producing them. Here are some resources to do initial trademark searches. However if you even THINK there might be a conflict it is best to avoid it and choose a different name and avoid any future legal trouble.

You never know which of your beers might grow into a cult favorite. Don’t let it be the one that you did not do your trademark due diligence on. Beer Marketing involves everything from brewery name, beer names, labels, pricing and messaging. Choose all with care and attention.

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