Name game: the intersection of craft brewing and IP

On Behalf of | Dec 23, 2020 | Intellectual Property Litigation, IP And Breweries |

In the 1950s, artists such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard fused blues, gospel and country music to create a raw new form of music called rock ‘n’ roll. Kindred spirits of rebellion and innovation are evident in the craft breweries that are taking on an alcohol industry long criticized for peddling uninspired libations.

Independent craft brewers often use guerrilla marketing tactics – evocative brew names rather than expensive advertising – to grab attention in a world crowded with competitors. Some beer monikers mock elements of pop culture while others are a form of homage and still others are designed to elicit sales-generating chuckles.

A taste of clever craft beer names

  • “Hoppy Ending Pale Ale” from Palo Alto Brewing Co.
  • “Smooth Hoperator” from Stoudts Brewing Company
  • “Hoptimus Prime” from Ruckus Brewing Company
  • “Should I Stay or Should I Gose” from Slowboat Brewing Co.
  • “Pathological Lager” from Dock Street Brewing Co.
  • “New Kids on the Bock” from Percival Brewing Company
  • “Turn Your Head and Coffee” from Smug Brewing Co.
  • “Hazed & Infused Pale Ale” from Boulder Beer Company
  • “Hauling Oats” from Tenaya Creek Brewery

Not everything is flowing as smoothly for craft brewers as a dark lager, however. In the search for attention-grabbing names and eye-catching labels, some brewers have strayed into trademark and copyright infringement.

At wit’s end

A recent Wine Enthusiast magazine article touched on a few of these, including a Stillwater Artisanal Ales label that looked a lot like the cover art for Kanye West’s 2016 “Life of Pablo” album. The brewer received a cease-and-desist order that same year following the release of its “I Miss the Old Kanye” beer.

Last year, Guns N’ Roses settled a trademark infringement lawsuit that it filed after Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery began selling its “Guns ‘N’ Rosé” ale and merchandise in early 2018.

California Stone Brewing Co. is currently engaged in litigation with the Molson Coors Beverage Company over the prominent emphasis of the word “stone” in the latter’s rebranding of its Keystone beers. Stone Brewing has apparently had similar conflicts in the past over intellectual property with smaller breweries.

Wine Enthusiast says, “It seems that IP theft (often) comes from smaller breweries that may not consult with an attorney beforehand.” Since Molson Coors is the third-largest brewer in the world, it’s certainly surprising that they didn’t do their due diligence before rebranding.