Bell’s Debacle Part 3

Over the weekend Innovation Brewing made another post on their Facebook page:

Yesterday, we offered Bell’s another co-existence agreement to resolve this dispute, since Bell’s management has indicated an interest in resolution via their many facebook and newspaper statements. We are going to sit back and wait a few days in hopes that cooler heads can prevail and an agreement can actually be reached. Fingers crossed.

To Clear Up Any Confusion:

Should this opposition have been filed? That is the question we encourage everyone to ponder. Public sentiment has forced Bell’s into a defensive position advised by their consulting team: an outside PR firm, a New York City IP law firm and a Michigan law firm. And the result of their campaign insinuates that we are liars and that craft brew fans cannot muster the comprehension to stay focused on the merits of the action. We know better. This is the most intelligent group of consumers out there. So we want to take a moment to discuss the case itself.

A “run-of-the-mill” trademark dispute, to use Larry Bell’s own words, is one where a brand owner has a registered mark that clearly matches an infringer’s mark. Bell’s Brewery has 20 registered trademarks and 3 more in the same process as our mark. If someone files for an application for something like “Inspired Beer Co” we expect a run-of-the-mill dispute to be raised and resolved in a matter of days. But when an applicant files a mark that does not look like, sound like or mean anything close to “Inspired” then it’s not “run-of-the-mill” at all, in fact it is not even a dispute. As for an unregistered word used in a marketing slogan (see “bottling innovation since 1985”), the protection is almost non-existent. Think of how many words are used in a brewery’s lifetime in a marketing statement. There are probably thousands, over 30 years. If a brewery feels that it is part of its brand, it would have protected it. This is especially true when the brewery is adept at filing for trademarks, such as Bell’s. That was not the case here. Like Bell’s would do, we searched far and wide before selecting a brand name. And we are asking for the same protection that they have been afforded 20+ times.

In the early days of this dispute, when we were asked what our brand was worth, we told them a lot. We did not expect that to be used against us as proposing a settlement figure. Our brand was not for sale, and it’s not for sale now. We fully believe we can come to an agreement with Bell’s, and we will never ask them for compensation. An agreement would let both breweries use our existing brands going forward, because consumers are not likely to be confused.

Bell’s, we just don’t think you should have filed it. We believe that it lacks merit, and the impact has been an unfortunate, costly, and lengthy heartache for all. Let’s settle it. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on our most recent coexistence agreement and truly look forward to a resolution.

This is where my head has been at the whole time watching the story unfold. I don’t see how an entity can challenge someone else’s name based on wording it has not trademarked itself. If that were the case a large brewery would do right to start using Webster’s dictionary as it’s slogans and no one would be able to open another brewery in the future. Well, that is unless they started making up words like the pharmaceutical companies do for new drugs.

Sadly, if this is really what has happened it’s not going to come down to common sense. It’s going to come down to check books and I highly doubt a small start up like Innovation can keep up with whatever Bell’s legal team can throw at them. Hopefully there is a fair conclusion to this that doesn’t involve a small brewery mortgaging their future to fight the big boys.

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