UPDATE: Comments from Alpine Beer Co. Founder and Owner, Pat McIlhenny:
- Believes the trademark was filed out of spite due to timing of it (5/19/2008) being shortly after the World Beer Cup where Ichabod received national recognition (4/20/2008).
- Says that he did return phone calls to New Holland that went unanswered.
- Notes that Alpine sent a proposal that would allow New Holland to use the name, “Ichabod,” exclusively anywhere except California. Proposal sent one month ago but hasn’t heard back.
- Re-iterated that Alpine would probably not release the beer under a temporary name
- “He (alluding to Vanderkamp) would be well-served to have his beer mistaken for ours.”
(Alpine, CA) – Just when you thought we were past the era of trademark talk stinking up the blog here…
In its newsletter today, Alpine Beer Co. dropped this juicy little nugget:
New Holland Brewing Company sent me a “Cease and Desist” letter from their lawyer for “Ichabod Ale.” It seems they Trademarked the name right after we won the World Beer Cup medal for it in 2008. Let’s all let them know what we think of their dirty move. We will not be releasing “Ichabod” this year until this works itself out.
A representative with Alpine declined to comment at this time.
New Holland Owner, Bret Vanderkamp, said on a phone call that he was surprised to hear of Alpine’s statement.
Vanderkamp explained that he had phoned Alpine a couple times and never heard back from ownership after the company discovered the existence of Alpine Ichabod. New Holland eventually sent a cease and desist which Alpine has countered. At this point, lawyers are in the midst of determining a possible agreement.
New Holland filed applications for several trademarks in 2008 (including this one which was registered in December) and has filed applications for several more earlier this year. According to Vanderkamp, New Holland has successfully reached agreements with other breweries during the process of protecting its trademarks.
Revue’s Lindsay Patton notes that New Holland has produced Ichabod since 1997.
Though both breweries will have tables at the Great American Beer Festival next week, they are probably far enough apart as to avoid an incident.
The return of the obligatory trademark bout disclaimer!
The point of this summary is to provide some context around stories like this one. Please take a moment to educate yourself about the basics of trademarks and trademark disputes (like visiting the USPTO website for instance) before making snap judgments on either side. Here’s my best shot at a back-of-the-napkin summary:
To clear up a couple common misconceptions that I’ve seen with respect to these trademark disputes:
A) these stories have nothing to do with copyrights,
B) sending a cease and desist letter is NOT the same thing as suing someone and
C) a trademark application requires that the filer identify a “class of goods” for which they are registering a mark.
That last one is a little less straightforward so I will explain. In the example of Troegs vs. The Brew Works, Troegs is not claiming to own the rights to the “Mad Elf” mark as it pertains to computers or automobiles or other goods. The brewery is only claiming rights to the mark as it pertains to beers. With the case of The Lost Abbey vs. Moylan’s, Lost Abbey is only claiming to own rights to the Celtic Cross mark as it pertains to tap handles (IIRC). This is why, for example, you see the name, “Monster,” on a number of goods including energy drinks, beers, electronics, etc. and it is usually within the boundaries of the law. Companies may still oppose similar marks of other companies across classes of goods.
Trademark law says that companies either protect these marks or risk losing them. The more common the incidence of a mark in a class of goods, the more likely it is that the mark could be seen as too generic. I suspect that the reason that Brooklyn Brewery abandoned its application to trademark the name, “Monster Ale,” several years ago is because there are many beers out there donning the name, “Monster,” so Brooklyn didn’t have a valid filing basis (I could be wrong).
That said, those who respond to these disputes by using blanket arguments such as, “breweries don’t sue each other,” or “breweries must defend their trademarks” are ignoring the unique circumstances that surround each case. Some warrant legal action and some do not. It is rarely as black and white as many make it out to be which is partly why lawyers are paid lots of money to handle these matters.
I don’t know of a single brewery that trademarks all of its beers and I know of dozens of breweries that don’t bother trademarking even their flagship beers. Why? There are costs and benefits to registering a mark. Production at Brooklyn Brewery has nearly doubled since 2005 and Brooklyn is still firmly planted among the top 25 regional breweries in the country in terms of size. You would have to ask Brewery President, Steve Hindy, what value his company has lost for not having a trademark for Monster Ale. Like I said…it’s debatable.