Trademarks and Beer: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Posted by  VBR Staff   in  Opinion     3 years ago     1052 Views     1 Comment  

hqdefaultUnlike by last blog, I don’t get to work in Simpsons’ quotes or anecdotes as much as I used to. There are very few moment’s in my day that I don’t reference something Homer says. In my college Natty Light days (we all had them), we used to have cups printed up that said “Alcohol: The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.”, a direct quote from Homer in the Beer Baron episode. Even today, your vernacular contains the word ‘meh’, which can be directly attributed to early Simpsons’ episode. Well finally, I get to do it again.

One of favorite moments in the show’s history is when Homer takes up boxing and works his way up to fight Drederick Tatum, who in Simpsons’ lore, is/was a clone of Mike Tyson in his prime. As Tatum is being introduced, Redman’s rap anthem ‘Time 4 Sum Aksion’ pumps through the arena as the muscular Adonis enters the ring. On the opposite end is Homer, Grandpa, and Moe, who walk in to WAR’s ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’, an ominous sign of things to come.

We are in the same situation here today. I’m not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV (or anywhere else). I’m not a graphic designer, nor am I a marketing accountant. But I don’t believe I need to be any of those to see through what kind of ‘bull’ came to light yesterday. If you haven’t read yet, Ashburn craft beer newcomer Old Ox Brewing is having their trademark challenged. Not by another craft brewery, or one of the macro Behemoths, but by Red Bull. Why? Because ‘Ox’ and ‘Bull’ are too closely related.

Brand confusion seems to be a hot topic this past year in the craft brewery community. As more and more craft breweries open up, it is completely logical that 2 separate people can arrive at an original idea for not only names of breweries, but of beer itself. For example, their was a minor issue after the GABF this year when a beer called ‘Rye of the Tiger’ from Iron Hill Brewery in PA won silver in the Rye Beer category. Problem is Great Lakes Brewing Company from Ohio trademarked the name back in 2013. You can debate the use of ‘adaptive monikors’ til the cows come home. But clearly Great Lakes could say (1) we own the trademark (2) you make the same product as we do (3) there can easily be consumer confusion between our 2 products.

download (6)The application of ‘consumer confusion’ creates a slippery slope. Just recently the most recent Hatfields/McCoys spat between California super crafts Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas was put to bed after craft beer enthusiasts directly influenced Lagunitas to pull their lawsuit against Sierra Nevada’s use of ‘IPA’ on their products. See Lagunitas thought (or was convinced by someone) that the new logo on SN’s Hop Hunter’s IPA looked too close to their very well established logo. The social media began to brew on this and there was enough outcry about the stupidity of the challenge that Lagunitas pumped the brakes and withdrew. Same market? Yes. Same product? Yes. Same logo? Meh.

This brings us to Old Ox, a family owned brewery in Northern Virginia, who chose the ox as their symbol because, “We selected the ox as a symbol of hard work. The ox helped build this community. Cleared timber, built roads and plowed fields. Like the steadfast, hard-working ox, we promise to brew high quality beer with hard work and integrity.” I couldn’t pull the info off of Red Bull’s site about their history cause I was hit in the face with a snowboard. These are two completely separate companies that make two completely separate products for two completely separate consumers, although after a night of craft beer, you might want an energy drink. But there is no brand or consumer confusion here no matter how thin you slice it.

Folks, we need to speak up about this. First thing is plainly to stop buying Red Bull products and let people know why. It will be difficult for restaurants to get out of contractual obligations, but you don’t have to order that Jager Bomb. Get to Facebook. Get to Twitter. Red Bull is Tatum trying to push around the little guy. Let’s be the Moe that saves them.