The most recent example of this features two high-profile breweries, Moylan's and Port Brewing (makers of the acclaimed Lost Abbey). And it's about a tap handle.
Here they are, side by side. Yes, in full disclosure, this image is from Lost Abbey's FAQ site, which is stunningly approachable, and I do not believe misrepresents the tap handles. But in case you distrust, here are images from the unimpeachable beersage:
- Lost Abbey claims that, while no one can copyright all varieties of Celtic Cross, a specific style of Celtic Cross for the purposes of a tap handle can be protected (legally, this is entirely accurate).
- Lost Abbey used the tap handle since 2006, while Moylan's recently made a very noticeable change in their style.
- Tap handles are important:
A lot of people don’t realize it, but for a small brewery like Port, the tap handle is the single most prominent piece of brand advertising there is. A tap handle that stands out among all the others not only identifies itself to those who know what it represents, it can also lead people who aren’t familiar with the brand to try the products. We were very aware of this when we designed the Lost Abbey Celtic cross tap handle and did our best to make it unique, attractive and easily identifiable no matter whether it sat on a line of two or 50 taps. But in a line with Moylan’s new taps, that uniqueness suddenly disappears. Having invested everything in making that Celtic cross tap handle design a unique identifier of the Lost Abbey brand, the arrival of Moylan’s strikingly similar handle isn’t a mere nuisance, it’s a very serious business threat.
- Lost Abbey's attempts to resolve this amicably met with no success. As Arthur says:
So, that's all well and good, and Tomme Arthur is an absolute titan of craft beer with a reputation for integrity. Everything Arthur says is legally sound, including the crucial part that, IF A BUSINESS DOES NOT PROTECT ITS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, IT LOSES IT. I capped that because it can not be underestimated. One must be paranoid in many ways with regard to IP, and clearly Lost Abbey is. It's part of why Moylan's offer to change after they exhaust their current inventory of tap handles is not really in good faith. The Lost Abbey case and supporting documents (here via the Full Pint) are a master class in how to publicly show one's case.Legal stuff is ugly and gives us the willies. (In all our years in craft brewing, the closest we’ve ever come to a lawyer was when one came into the tasting room for a beer.) From the time Moylan’s new tap handles were brought to our attention last April we made numerous attempts to air our concerns to Moylan’s directly, through common friends in the industry, and eventually through lawyer-grams, in the hopes of working out something mutually agreeable that didn’t need the courts involved. Unfortunately, we had no luck. So finally faced with continuing and greater infringement that could lead to the loss of the trademark (by law trademarks must be defended or they can be voided), we reluctantly agreed to go ahead and file suit in an attempt to bring the matter to resolution. We have absolutely no desire to go to court over this we’re still hopeful that Port and Moylan’s can come to a mutually acceptable agreement.
But that's just one side.
Moylan's letter that prompted the suit is long and in legalese, but there are only a few possible defenses. Here are the options:
- Moylan had it first, and has used the design continuously
- The design isn't that similar, and no one could mistake the two
|One of these things is not like the others?|
“It’s basically about Celtic cross beer handles that I’ve been using for 15 years,”Then I'd say I don't buy it. That isn't the same handle, and it isn't the same design.
But that's only part of the defense. Another part is the claim that the two things just aren't that similar. Let's look again:
|Are you confused?|
Artistically speaking, these are definitely not the same, and I actually believe that Moylan's had no intention of violating copyright.
But that's not the lawsuit. The suit is about whether the new Moylan's design actually infringes on Lost Abbey's intellectual property (intent is irrelevant), and could potentially confuse or mislead a customer, or damage existing brand value.
I'm not a lawyer, let alone a patent lawyer, but, if someone were to ask my opinion...
I'd say it does do that. On a tap rack, those two look awfully similar. I would have to look closely to tell them apart, and I run a blog about beer design.
If I were Brendan Moylan, I would swallow some pride, ditch the "I've been doing this forever" shtick, and call Tomme Arthur. Grab a beer. I bet you anything Tomme will help cover the costs of the handles, and you can do a couple events and a collaboration beer to make up the rest. The money you'll both save on lawyers will be astronomical. No one's saying anyone did anything wrong, but life is life and business is business. it's just good business to avoid the costs of this suit, and from my experience your life is better when no lawsuits of any kind are involved. Plus, it'll be a feelgood story for us beer nerds.
Thanks to The Full Pint, Beernews.org, and Josh Oakes at the Hop Press for their reporting on this issue.