Over the past couple days a storm has been brewing(pun fully intended) in the craft beer world.
According to an article posted by the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday a large Michigan craft brewer is getting into a bit of a quarrel with a considerably smaller North Carolina based brewery.
The general summary of the article is that Bell’s Brewery of Michigan and Innovation Brewing of North Carolina are heading down the road to a bitter trademark battle. Bell’s is taking federal trademark action against Innovation because they claim that Innovation’s name could lead to confusion of their customers.
How can this be you might ask. Well, Bell’s has a slogan of “bottling innovation since 1985″. Mind you, this is an unregistered, minimally used slogan. With Innovation’s name being in their slogan they feel that customers may some how be confused between the two.
Right now the only confusion I have is how the name of a brewery that is one word in an unregistered slogan can end up as a legal battle.
As you may guess word of this impending battle has spread like wildfire through social media. Many upset people have taken to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like to voice their dismay over this issue. These voices prompted Bell’s to make a public statement on their Facebook page in their defense. The following post came less than two days after they had said they would decline further comment.
To our Bell’s customers and the passionate craft beer community,
We want to clear up a few things regarding our federal trademark dispute with Innovation Brewing.
1. We have not, and are not asking them to change their name or their logo. There is no lawsuit. We are not suing them. We have not asked them for money. We have not asked them to stop selling their beer. We are asking them to withdraw their federal trademark application.
2. Our concern is with their United States trademark application and potential impact on our brand, which we have spent 30 years building.
3. I personally reached out to Innovation Brewing to try to settle this matter in February, 2014 and attempted to talk about this brewer to brewer instead of involving lawyers. Our efforts were rebuffed and Innovation Brewing choose to pursue this in the legal system.
4. Over the last year, we have offered co-existence agreements and have offered to pay for their legal fees. We tried to find solutions that would work for both of us. Their response was to ask for an exorbitant amount of money and we did not feel that was a collaborative solution.
5. All offers that we proposed were rejected and after more than a year of discussion regrettably, this matter has moved to the federal trademark office.
We have the utmost respect for Innovation Brewing and we are going to keep any comments we have regarding this matter positive, honest, and collaborative. We want them to continue to brew and do the good work they’re doing under their own name.
We hope to resolve this as swiftly as the system will allow.
The passion that we have seen over the past few days is a testament to how much the beer industry means to those who support it and why we are proud to be a part of it. We always appreciate further feedback and invite everyone to continue to share their concerns with us directly:http://bellsbeer.com/contact/
Laura S. Bell
Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Shortly after Bell’s posted Innovation took to their Facebook page and posted this:
To Our Wonderful Craft Beer Community:
We felt it was important to get our story out to the media because this is an important matter for the craft beer industry. We did not intend (nor do we want to) have a social media battle with Bell’s, but because of allegations posted on Bell’s Brewery’s Facebook page we now have to defend ourselves. Settlement discussions are protected communications that are not to be disclosed publicly, so out of respect to Bell’s Brewery’s rights we would never have disclosed them. Furthermore, Mr. Bell pointedly stated that he would not “play this out on social media” – and so we again respected his wishes by keeping the details to ourselves. Now, it appears they changed their mind.
We are planning to deliver a full statement of the facts and events that have brought us to this point. Until then, we feel it necessary to respond to Ms. Bell’s enumerated allegations. Thank you for continuing to support and believe in us. You keep us going through this difficult time.
1. Yes, this is a TM proceeding and not a lawsuit, although it is like a lawsuit, requiring legal representation, being personally deposed, and including a trial. They are asking us to withdraw our federal trademark application for our brand name.
2. We do not believe that any human on earth would confuse Innovation Brewing with Bell’s Brewery, despite their slogans.
3. Laura Bell did contact me at 7:00 pm the night before their opposition filing was due. They had already hired attorneys to represent them and file for their extension to file the opposition. We had not hired an attorney. After she advised us that she would “let us” keep using the name in NC only, and never expand beyond it, she said that we had until the next day at 5:00 PM to respond. That is 22 hours to find an attorney and decide on the future of our business. That was the one and only attempt Ms. Bell made to contact me. From there their attorneys took over.
4. Not a single co-existence agreement has ever been presented to us by Bell’s. In fact it was we who submitted a written co-existence agreement – subsequently declined by Bell’s. The only monetary compensation they have ever offered us was $2,500 which was to cover the inconvenience of being forced to abandon our trademark and go register a different one. The “legal fees”, as Ms. Bell puts it, brought on by their legal action against us, may exceed $50,000. We did not feel like being bought off.
5. This matter was before the TM office one day after she began talking to us. No offer has ever been presented to us other than the offer to limit our business to NC or take $2,500 to start over and build a new brand. We believe in our business, so those are not really offers at all.
6. In regards to Laura Bell stating “we hope to resolve this as swiftly as the system will allow” we suggested the accelerated trademark opposition process that would have brought this to a legal end much sooner and with far less expense, but Bell’s denied it.
You great people don’t deserve to be peppered with sides of the story. So we will give you a full account of the facts so you can decide for yourself. We are good people and we know we have your support. Stay tuned.
-Chip and Nicole
So there you have it. As always I’m sure there are three sides to this story, what Bell’s says, what Innovation says, and what really happened. I’ll try to post up any pertinent updates to this as time goes on. In the meantime I’d like to ask everyone, what do you think? Do you think Bell’s is picking on Innovation with a baseless claim but deep pockets? Or do you think Innovation should be abandoning their brand because of possible confusions with Bell’s slogan?