Trademark follies: North Coast Brewing and De Molen go toe to toe over Rasputin


(Bodegraven, NETHERLANDS) – For whatever reason, trademark matters have come to the surface a lot recently; I can think of at least four disputes from the past month or so.   There was the infamous Rock Art Brewery vs. Monster Energy battle, Moylan’s losing its Kilt Lifter name in some areas, Odell and Red Lodge squaring off, and now this.  De Molen, imported by The Shelton Brothers, started sending their beer over to the States last year.  One of those beers, De Molen Rasputin, has apparently struck a chord with well-known California-based North Coast Brewing.

De Molen has given us the gist of what happened right on the label: “This stout used to be called Rasputin, but the people who make Old Rasputin in California thought you were too dumb to tell the two products apart, and threatened to sue us for trademark infringement.” North Coast Brewing, of course, has one of the most widely available Imperial Stouts in the U.S. market called Old Rasputin. In response to North Coast’s communication, the beer is now aptly named De Molen Disputin in the States.

The good news here is that there more top notch beer is coming our way. On the other hand, despite all the camaraderie and collaborations we’ve seen this year, this is indicative of some of the ugliness that lives down in the trenches. These trademark matters may be routine for some breweries but still dangerous from a PR perspective. Protecting your brands is a worthwhile endeavor though you do so at your own risk as Hansen Beverage found out in the Monster Energy case.

Whereas that case seemed rather frivolous, it is difficult to argue one way or the other here. A brewery or two carrying the Rasputin name may not be a big deal at all but could be seen as diluting the value of North Coast’s beer if both are sold in the same stores. It also may open up the door for other breweries to use the Rasputin name if they don’t challenge this one. At least the breweries came to an agreement without going forward into the lengthy trademark trial and appeal process, one that is governed by an 849 page behemoth of a procedure-setting document.

Some breweries have made it that far though. Recent notables:

Still ongoing . . . the makers of Original Bartenders Hot Sex Cocktail are alleging that Foothills Sexual Chocolate infringes on its mark. Foothills Brewing has issued an official “answer” to the plaintiff (establishing its formal opinion on the alleged infringement) and that is where it stands at the moment. They also went after 638 Brewing who also makes a beer called Sexual Chocolate.

Duke University went after Duke Brewing back in June. An extension of time was granted but nothing further seems to have come from it.

In May, Shipyard Brewing alleged that the Landmar Group had infringed on its Shipyard marks. The Landmar Group owns The Shipyards, a downtown residential/commercial development in Jacksonville. Paperwork says that Landmar is involved in bankruptcy proceedings and the case has been suspended pending investigation.

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14 thoughts on “Trademark follies: North Coast Brewing and De Molen go toe to toe over Rasputin

  1. shame on north coast, they should have done a collaboration not litigation. This trademark thing is really pissing me off, if the name is not exactly the same it should be ok.

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  3. Why shame on North Coast?
    When you spend 12 years investing in a brand, building a name and establishing a quality product, not to mention the time and real money required to comply with ATF and state alcoholic beverage control requirements, then someone comes in with the SAME STYLE of beer (Russian Imperial) and the SAME NAME (that label said “De Molen’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout” you should have every right to protect your investment.

    Having two (Old) Rasputin Russian Imperial Stouts would be confusing to the market.

    This is a business, not a hobby. North Coast is one of the largest employers in Ft.Bragg – a town that has lost its timber business over the last 50 years. When you lose market share over things like this, it is a real business issue.

    Shame on De Molen for even referencing the issue on their label.

  4. I’m glad to hear this. I love the good old North Coast-Old Rasputin and there’s only one Raputin in my book. Two Russian imperial stouts with VERY similar names will definitely cause confusion, and more than likely people who HAVE made this mistake will most likely just take offense to the disclaimer on the bottle.

  5. I’m with North Coast on this one as well, and find the new De Molen label to be poor: North Coast defending its trademark does NOT equate with thinking beer drinkers to be too dumb to know the difference. That’s just an unnecessary shot at North Coast. Especially because I can’t see either De Molen or the Shelton Brothers saying “that’s fine, that’s cool” if someone were to come out with a De Mole brew or start an beer importing company called the Shelton Siblings.

  6. I can see North Coast’s side of this argument. The two names were identical, and the product bearing their name is identical – not just beer, but russian imperial stout. I can understand why this would potentially be confusing to some customers who aren’t very familiar with either of the brews, so I think it’s a little lame of De Molen to rip on North Coast for seeking to enforce this IP right.

    Plus, unlike Hansen, whose legal theory was frivolous, this seems like a clear case where North Coast would be required to assert its property rights to avoid waiving its rights. (trademark law requires trademark holders to actively enforce their rights, or risk waiving those rights)

  7. One other thought – De Molen may be risking a defamation lawsuit with the new caption on its label. Arguably, it’s just opinion. But it certainly portrays North Coast in a bad light, and unfairly so.

  8. i my opinion this implies that north coast thinks their customers are too dumb to know the difference between the two…
    the de molen beer did not say “De Molen’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout”, it says “Browerij de Molen Rasputin”…
    the beer bottle looks completely different, the name is different, and it is from another country…
    Shame on North Coast…

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  11. Shame on another foreign company . North coast has the right after 12 hrs they have earned the right . Is de molen so lame that they can only think of one name, which is a obvious rip off of north coast. I say we boycott De molen and the importer. For those that say shame on north coast , shame on you. Wait till someone takes something from you and are told to just take it. Be proud and be a American , we should protect and take pride in American achievement and that is what north coast should do! North coast rocks!!!!!!

  12. Nice id like to taste this special beer. Since im from germany i´ve been drinking a lot of beer but 10,7 % Alcohol is alot for beer.

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  14. Replying to an old thread but anyway….I agree with Kif above…It’s an absurd argument.De Molen Rasputin holds it’s own, in name and quality.It doesn’t state “Old Rasputin” on the label,so where is the trademark infringment?…further more,in theory shouldn’t North Coast and DeMolen be asking Grigori Rasputin’s distant relatives for permission to use his name to sell their beers??We have many conflicting beer names over here in the UK,most people seem to realise the difference between breweries and get on with enjoying the brews!

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