Wednesday, November 28, 2012

FC After Hours - It's a Strange litigious world

FC After HoursDay's work is done. Time to relax, have a brew. Fermentedly Challenged is staying up late with after hours news and commentary.

Welcome to the first of late day FC After Hours posts. Here we'll take a look at the late breaking world of craft beer with a slightly different approach. Topics the Colorado Daily News doesn't have room to describe. These posts will take on a more personal perspective and will range greatly in subject. This first such post will take a look at a sensitive topic: Litigation in the beer industry.

It's a "Strange" litigious world

What's up with small business cooperation today? There seems to be a non-stop flow of lawsuits and cease and desist letters these days and now it's hitting another Colorado brewery. There's been a flurry of articles coming out this month about the so-called trademark infringement slapped against Denver's Strange Brewing Company by a similarly named business "Strange Brew Beer & Wine Making Supplies" in Massachusetts who has been in business since 1997. Now that the Massachusetts business has their eyes set on making their own beer, they want to keep the phrase "Strange Brew" all to themselves. Wasn't that also the name of a movie that dealt with beer? Hmmm...

Despite efforts by Denver's Strange Brewing Company to "make nice", offer alternatives and co-exist peacefully with this other business, Strange Brew on the East coast doesn't plan to let anyone else use any part of their "trademarked" name when it comes to beer. So much for the unwritten brotherhood of brewers.

Strange Brewing Company faces immediate action if they don't change their name. They can spend a lot of money to fight this action (which they still could lose) or they can bite the bullet and change their name which would also cost them a chunk of change. Neither of which is an easy choice.

What a shame. Ever wonder how long it will be before every word in the English language is trademarked by some company? It's not a surprise today that there are so many businesses out there who have to intentionally misspell a word just to use it in their business name. And even then, if it "sounds" too much like a trademarked name they still are forced to change it. A name means everything these days.

While the result of this cease and desist issue is still not settled, there is only a sad reminder to all business owners that you do your due diligence before you name your company or else you may have to spend a lot of time and money later on to correct your mistake. Who would have guessed that a small homebrew shop in one state would get confused with a brewery in another state. Apparently that happened and the out of state business took offense to it.

Pateros Creek Brewing in Fort Collins, CO and the upcoming De Steeg Brewing in Denver had similar issues with their original names and eventually had to change their names, but that was BEFORE they opened for business and not 1-2 years after the fact like Strange Brewing Company.

Some businesses take a different approach

Cooperation can find a way. Take the case of Avery Brewing and Russian River Brewing. Back in 2004, Avery discovered a way to avoid litigation years back when they found out that one of their beers (Salvation) had the same name as a Russian River Brewing beer. Rather than fight it out in court over the exclusive rights to that beer name, the two breweries decided to collaborate on a beer called "Collaboration not Litigation Ale" - a blend of the two different Salvation ales. A beer that the two breweries still make today.

The spirit of cooperation between breweries is very high here in Colorado and when we see that spirit tossed aside by another beer-related business outside our state some people tend to get upset about it. And when fans of a brewery get involved on social media, things can tend to get downright nasty. But we won't go there right now.

So while I feel bad for Strange Brewing Company and the possibility that they'd have to spend a ton of money to change their name, I just have to shake my head and wonder why things like this have to happen in the first place. A simple Google search may have prevented this whole thing a few years ago, but who knows - even Google results aren't perfect.

A helping hand

On a brighter note, the Colorado community is planning to get together and help out Strange Brewing in an upcoming benefit hosted by Grimm Brothers Brewhouse and the Rackhouse Pub in December. The event is asking for local breweries to donate a keg to the cause and all funds raised will go towards the defense of Strange Brewing Company. When things get tough, the community here steps in and helps out. They know a tough situation when they see one.

If Strange Brewing Company can't win this case, then they will face an expensive name changing process and that'll take a bunch of money and time to correct. Even if they do win their case, it may still require a lot of money to pay their lawyers. Lose - Lose either way. The only winners in this case are the lawyers. Perhaps they can find a lawyer willing to donate time to this cause as well.

We wish Strange Brewing Company of Denver the best of luck in their efforts to keep their name. If the Colorado brewing community and their fans band together, we might just help make a difference.

Related articles:
- 15 Steps to Becoming a Douchebag at the GABF.
- How old is that beer you just bought?
- Beer bloggers, disclosure and the FTC.

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