Coronado Brewing sues Elysian Brewing for alleged infringement of ‘Idiot’ mark

idiot sauvin cropped

UPDATE: Elysian Brewing Co-Founder, Dick Cantwell, shared an update with BeerPulse on Thursday.

(Coronado, CA) – Monkey see, monkey do.

At least that is what Coronado Brewing Company claims in the case of this chimp.

In May, Coronado (“CBC”) filed suit against Elysian Brewing Company (“Elysian”), alleging that Elysian “knocks off” Coronado’s registered and unregistered trademarks in an attempt “to associate Elysian’s goods unfairly with those of CBC and to divert business from CBC.”

Elysian filed an application for label certification for a beer called Idiot Sauvin as part of its Manic IPA Series in January, subsequently releasing the beer to the public in February. CBC specifically argues that this beer name would violate its registered trademark, “Idiot,” which it obtained in 2011.

CBC drives its point home that the beer is a “knock off” by stating, “The Defendant’s mark and materials suggest . . . that the India Pale Ales . . . sold by the Defendant are those of CBC. Yet, the Defendant’s goods are not of the same quality as CBC’s goods. The unsuspecting consumer can be angered by this misleading advertisement.

In order to prevail in its case, CBC will have to prove:

  1. IDIOT is a valid, protectable trademark;
  2. CBC owns IDIOT as a trademark; and
  3. Elysian used a mark similar to IDIOT without the consent of CBC in a manner that is likely to cause confusion among ordinary consumers as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or approval of the goods.

CBC’s federal trademark registration creates a presumption of validity of the IDIOT mark (fulfilling #1), and of CBC’s ownership of the IDIOT mark (fulfilling #2). The third factor will be the crux of this case (i.e., whether a beer called IDIOT SAUVIN would likely be confused with CBC’s IDIOT line of beers).

It does not appear that Elysian has filed an answer in this case yet, but they likely have to respond by the middle of July 2012.

The only other notable commercial beer also using the ‘Idiot’ mark is Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot, which has over 1,000 reviews on RateBeer.

dan christopherson photo 110Daniel Christopherson of DCBrewLaw.com is a registered patent attorney with the Christopherson Intellectual Property Law Firm. He is an avid craft beer enthusiast who helps new and established breweries develop their business models and protect their intellectual property.

25 thoughts on “Coronado Brewing sues Elysian Brewing for alleged infringement of ‘Idiot’ mark

  1. Here in the Midwest, far removed from California, I’ve heard of Elysian, have tried a couple brews, and have a fairly high opinion of their products. I had not heard of Coronado before this, but will now think of them as the brewery run by lawyers, which is NOT a favorable opinion. Who cares how their beer is? Their first impression is cast. “Collaboration Not Litigation Ale” sets the moral high ground for naming disputes, moral ground which Coronado has forsaken.

  2. Bill, I definitely understand the sentiment. I visited Coronado once when I was visiting San Diego. At the time I recall it being more of a brewpub (focusing as much on food as beer). This was a few years ago, so it seems they may have stepped up beer production since that time.

    To be fair, some lawyers make some very good beer. Also, Coronado needs to police their own trademarks, or could risk “losing” them.

    I do understand how craft breweries flexing their legal muscles at one another leaves a bad taste in your mouth, given that most in the business seem to view it as more of a brotherhood of sorts. It will be interesting to see how Elysian responds and, if they decide to fight it out, how this will play out. I will follow up on this as the case develops.

  3. Looks to me like CBC is looking for a shady alternative way to make money for their business. They sound like greedy shit heads if you ask me. Cease and desist is one thing. Suing a fellow craft brewer over something like this shows they are just plain bad people.

  4. Could CBC have defended their IP in a bit of a friendlier manner? Would a registered letter asking EB to desist have sufficed legally?

  5. Couple of issues here:

    1) The insanity of having the word “IDIOT” be a registered trademark. The trademark likely (almost assuredly) only applies to the beer marketplace, but even still a trademark for a common word in the English language seems weak and ill advised to begin with. Think about the common English words often used in beer names.

    2) The benefit of owning the trademark for the word “IDIOT” in the beer market is of little to no value for anything other than intimidating and strong-arming competitors. It is not associated with the brand in any way and does not hold any tangible or intangible value. As such, the need to defend the trademark is nothing more than bullying and legal posturing. Again, poor form.

    3) I’ve had a number of Coronodo beers (including Idiot IPA) and just recently purchased a bottle of Elysian’s Idiot Sauvin. I had no misconceptions about who made the beer; after all, the name “ELYSIAN” clearly dominates the label and features a monkey instead of a mermaid.

    4) Coronodo’s complaint is annoying, but their comment about Elysian’s beer being an inferior product is insulting to Elysian and the beer community at large. Coronodo’s arrogance and disregard for good taste is, in my opinion, offensive. This whole thing strikes me as a horrible misuse of the

    This is the type of garbage that is plaguing the tech industry. Do we really want to see it in the beer world as well?

  6. Brewers suing other brewers over one word has become the giant “Elf” in the room so to speak.

  7. To clarify a few things:
    First, in order to maintain trademark rights, Coronado is legally obligated to defend the mark. Here, that means filing a suit because a similar product bears a similar name. Sending a certified letter would likely be insufficient defense of the mark, and even if Elysian complied, Coronado would risk having its rights watered down since it would not be able to later demonstrate a fully vigorous defense of the mark.
    Second, a lawsuit does not equal a cash grab. I haven’t read the complaint, but it is entirely possible that Coronado isn’t seeking damages here, but merely a cease and desist; something that would be referred to as a “lawsuit” in a press article is required for either outcome.
    Third, Coronado isn’t trying to maintain rights to the word “idiot”, rather, they are trying to maintain their rights with the word idiot as applied to the name of a beer, and more specifically as the name of an IPA. Having the rights means at least something; if someone comes into the shop I work at and mentions they heard about an IPA called Idiot or something, I’m going to direct them to the Coronado. As a craft beer enthusiast, I and most of my customers can of course differentiate easily between the Elysian and Coronado products, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that argument at the heart of Elysian’s response to this suit. Nonetheless, Idiot is the product from Coronado I am the most familiar with, and the association between the name and producer is what trademarks are all about. Regardless of one’s taste for either beer, Coronado is in a position where they need to defend the mark, and a well-constructed trademark suit will always make the claim that the allegedly infringing product is inferior.
    I guess what I’m driving at is that companies, including craft beer firms, have their lawyers because business is business. If Coronado’s lawyers didn’t do anything when they discovered a possibly infringing mark, they would arguably be guilty of malpractice as inaction would damage their client’s mark. So don’t blame Coronado, they are brewers who employ lawyers who do their jobs. If you want to hate on the US trademark system go right ahead, but please don’t hate on a brewery for playing by the rules of the game, however silly those rules might look in this instance.

  8. I’ve been to Coronado Brewing and they make decent beer, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Elysian. Of course, their location can’t be beat, but that’s beside the point. As collaborative as Washington’s beer brewers are it’s disappointing and surprising to find out that it might not extend to all brewers. I will certainly not be patronizing them in the future.

  9. @CK: It is very likely that CBC already sent cease and desist letters to Elysian, but this isn’t part of the public record. A letter by itself doesn’t really have any teeth, and would only suffice to the extent it convinced Elysian to stop using their mark.

    I always advise clients to try to avoid court whenever possible as litigation is very expensive, and typically only the lawyers end up winning monetarily. If I were in CBC’s shoes, I probably would have offered Elysian a license to use the word idiot. They could still maintain ownership of the mark without having to go to court. Plus, this may end up being pretty bad PR for them among a fairly tight-knit craft beer crowd.

    Certainly, calling out the quality of their beer wasn’t the friendliest way to resolve this.

  10. Coronado Brewing just became aware of this website critiquing a matter between Coronado and Elysian Brewing.  The attorney’s commentary leaves a misperception of the matter and misrepresents Coronado’s statements.  (Go figure.)  Coronado never said that Elysian’s beer is a “knock off” or inferior to Coronado’s fine brews.  The language that the attorney is spinning is formal language required for a trademark dispute.

     

                Coronado and Elysian very quickly engaged in discussions and appear to have resolved this matter to both parties’ satisfaction.  In fact, Coronado and Elysian may explore cooperative projects with one another.  Coronado and Elysian care about the craft brewing industry and both care about the public’s ability to identify a craft beer with its brewer through its mark.

     

                Coronado encourages you to try both brewers’ products.

     
    Ron Chapman

       CEO/Co-Founder
       Coronado Brewing Co.

  11. Can they rename it: Coronada Idiota
    The image would be a monkey wearing a crown…

  12. @Justin: I agree that it seems unfair to allow one company the exclusive right to use the word IDIOT in connection with beer. However, several relatively common words are trademarked within every industry. Also, I’m not 100% convinced that CBC’s complaint will prevail, if Elysian decides to fight it out. The phrase IDIOT SAUVIN and the word IDIOT have very different meanings.

    @Josh: You may have to get used to this type of litigation as the beer industry gets more crowded. If the number of breweries in the US has finally reached the number it was at pre-prohibition, you have to figure that thousands of brewery and beer names are yet to come. They are bound to step on each others’ toes every now and again.

    @theincomparablemrflannery: I wouldn’t go so far as saying that “have to sue,” but there are certain advantages to setting a precedent. Here is a copy of the complaint. As you can see, they aren’t only claiming to make an IPA, but a whole line of beers using the word IDIOT. They referred to the IPA because Elysian’s beer was an IPA. Part of their claim to any iteration of the word IDIOT in relation to beer stems from their “common law” rights they claim to this line.

  13. Pingback: Coronado Brewing Company, brewery lawyer, beer law

  14. Pingback: An Idiot Move | Rooftop Brew

  15. Just wanted to re-iterate what Dan said. The quotes in the post were pulled directly from the legal filing from Coronado. They can’t take back those words now. Just reporting the facts of the case and what is public record. If the two companies have come to an agreement, that is great but they have not made it public record.

  16. Lots of great comments and concerns on here already. One more I would like to make regarding legalese and the English langauge. The words used by the legal claim were that the beer was not of the same quality and could be misleading to consumers. “Not of the same quality” does not necessarily mean “inferior”. If that is the first thing you hear when you hear the words “not of the same quality” please ask yourself a simple question such as “what other interpretations might I make?” There are plenty of them. Everything from the worst to the best people places and things has a quality about it. They are not the same.

    It is good to hear that the good beer people are doing good beer things with one another. Cheers to Coronado and Elysian.

  17. Pingback: Elysian co-founder says he will change beer name after Coronado’s ‘Idiot’ lawsuit | BeerPulse

  18. @Otto
    I agree with your statement about different quality doesn’t necessarily mean inferior. Any allegation that Coronado directly called Elysian’s beers inferior did not come from beerpulse or me.

  19. Pingback: Idiot savant |

  20. Pingback: Coronado Brewing Sues Elysian Brewing for Trademark Infringement of Idiot Mark

  21. Pingback: Coronado Brewing asked to stop using the name, “Stoopid” | BeerPulse

  22. Pingback: How to send a cease-and-desist letter with class | BeerPulse

Leave a Reply