March 20, 2011

More Intellectual Property Disputes in Craft Beer

Lots of stuff to catch up on, but I want revisit a favorite topic on this blog, which is intellectual property.

On the heels of the Troegs "Elf" actions are a couple other disputes in the craft beer world.

The first is between Boston Beer Company aka Sam Adams, and a Chandler, AZ brewery called SanTan Brewing. It's pretty straightforward. SanTan has a glass that looks quite a bit like the Sam Adams glass they've made such a big deal on, and Sam Adams says it's too similar and they need to stop. They've leveled a similar suit against an importer, Peter Sciacca, who has a similar glass product.

In this case, if Sam Adams has a design patent (which I am absolutely sure they do), they will win this suit. Sciacca has a list of what's different, but my understanding of the law on this is that he and SanTan are not on legal high ground. Fortunately for SanTan, it's just one product, and the publicity from this case will probably be more beneficial than sales of that glass would have been. Sciacca says he'll ask the patent office to revisit, but Sam Adams invested money in the engineering and design of the glass, and I can't see the protection of that investment being revoked.

Then, two weeks ago, via Beersage, came news of Marble City Brewing Company and Marble Brewery at odds over the use of the word Marble. Marble City is in Knoxville, TN, and Marble Brewery is in New Mexico. The NM chain of restaurants is moving the beer into the Knoxville area (founder is from there and went to Tennessee), and is saying MCBC needs to change their name. MCBC questions whether they're just moving into the state to sue.

Here's the thing: We do not need to like this stuff. And, as craft beer people, we probably don't like it. But this is the way the industry is going, and frankly, it's the right direction in a lot of ways.

Ironically, I did not
obtain IP rights for this image.
Starting a Brewery requires a lot of cash and risk on the part of the owners, and it's a passion and life for those who do it. So imagine you've done this, you've succeeded, and your lawyer tells you that someone has a name that potentially infringes on a valuable brand you've spent your time, blood and money building. This lawyer, who you pay to advise you, further tells you that if you don't send them a cease & desist letter now, you can't protect it later. You are a craft beer person who dislikes lawyers and wants to be nice, but this is your life and livelihood we're talking about. I think, in that situation, you, I and everyone else send the C&D.

I won't pretend to know the facts of this case, but I do know that Marble Brewery is potentially confusing with Marble City Brewing, and that if it's potentially confusing, it's worth protecting.

Now, there are ways around it, and I hope that the Marble and Marble City folks avail themselves of those. For one, Marble Brewery could license the term for $1 in the state of Tennessee to Marble City. Now, for MCBC, that might be a tough draught to swallow, but it would let them do business with the stuff they've made up, and still preserve Marble's rights. There are lots of solutions. And, with 1,500 craft breweries and counting, I'm hoping the industry gets really good at finding them.

Some news and notes

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