(Minneapolis, MN) – A battle that has been quietly brewing between two Minneapolis startup breweries for the past few months made its way into the public eye last week.
Heard of this one before?
Step 1: Brewery A (in this case, Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub) sends a cease-and-desist letter (or two) to Brewery B (in this case, Northgate Brewing). Step 2: Brewery B isn’t happy about it and lets the public know. Step 3: Watch the fun unfold.
In a Thursday post entitled, “Minnesota Nice?,” which has since been deleted from Northgate’s website, Co-Founder, Adam Sjogren, lays out Northgate’s side of the story.
When my friend Todd and I decided to chase our dream of opening a brewery, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. Most of the challenges we’ve had to face along the way have been expected: permits, health codes, hop shortages, plumbing inspections, etc. Unexpected, however, was having another local startup try to bully us into changing our name, potentially costing us several thousand dollars in rebranding and legal fees.
On February 3, 2012, we officially became Northgate Brewing by registering the name with the Minnesota Secretary of State. In June of this year we became aware of a new brewpub in South Minneapolis changing their name from Smokehouse Brewpub to “Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub.” They filed for the mark “Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub” on February 23, 2012, which was approved on June 10.
When they contacted us in June to voice concern over the possible confusion between the two names, we made a verbal agreement to stay out of South Minneapolis for one year to help them develop their brand in the neighborhood. We did this because we believe all craft breweries are in this together. In fact, we’ve received so much support from other local and national craft breweries, we wanted to pay it forward. Even though we had registered our name long before we were aware of Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub, I didn’t feel either of us needed to make a change because our businesses are completely different. After all, we are a production brewery, and they are a restaurant/brewpub.
Apparently, this courtesy on my part made it appear as though I was a pushover that could be bullied into giving up my name. We have received two cease and desist letters from the lawyers of Smokehouse since August stating our names were “deceptively similar” since it “contains the identical word ‘north’ and the nearly identical word ‘brewing,’” and that, as such, we must give up the name Northgate Brewing.
Todd and I refuse to be bullied.
In a market where the biggest craft brewers don’t produce as much as Budweiser spills, I think it’s shameful that a brewpub is trying to litigate like a big-timer. We’re all lucky to be a part of the latest craft beer revolution in the Twin Cities. The last thing we should be doing is arguing with each other when there are still people who have never tasted a craft beer.
On Friday, Northbound responded on its Facebook page, also now deleted, but thanks to RateBeer’s , here it is for posterity…
Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub encourages competition in the Twin Cities’ craft beer industry. We dedicate each of our guest tap lines to local guest beers, which is half of our tap lines because we want to support the local brewing community. We see the Twin Cities as the next Portland in terms of an amazing choice of locally produced beers. With that said, we have invested significant resources in establishing our brand. Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub is our established trademark and anyone who does a simple search on the Trademark Office’s web site will find that the be the case.
We went about this the responsible way. We decided to use Northbound as our brand name. We checked out the Trademark Office to make sure there weren’t any conflicts in the state of Minnesota. We did that for the precise reason of avoiding a situation like this one. But Northgate Brewing never did any of that. Even now, they still haven’t registered with t…he Trademark Office – and that’s what the Trademark Office is for. That is why this dispute happened.
As Adam Sjogren, Co-Founder of NorthGate Brewing, stated on his blog post, we did contact them in June, and again in August regarding documented cases of confusion between our names. He acknowledged the confusion and therefore offered to not sell their beer in South Minneapolis for one year after they opened, which we declined. There was never any agreement between Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub and Northgate Brewing.
We filed our name Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub with the Secretary of State on December 1, 2011, not February 23, 2012 as Northgate Brewing stated. We filed with the Trademark Office on February 23, 2012. ALL trademark owners have a duty – under U.S. Trademark Law – to diligently protect their marks. Unfortunately, with the rate that new breweries are opening and launching new craft beers every year, great names are in short supply. We have an obligation to protect our trademark, otherwise we’d lose it. We have only asked that the owners of the yet-to-be-opened Northgate Brewing tweak their name to reduce the number of instances of confusion that have already happened.
A number of local Minnesota media outlets reported the scuffle and it got picked up on beer forums as well. With online chatter mounting, both breweries reached a media truce that was announced on Monday.
Per Northbound’s Facebook page:
We are currently in discussions with Northgate. We have agreed to end all discussions on facebook and any other internet forum that we can control. Any further discussions here will be deleted.
Per Northgate’s Facebook page:
We are currently in discussions with Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub. We have agreed to end all discussions on media (social or otherwise) we control. During this time any discussion will be deleted. (This means please don’t comment here so I don’t have to check back and delete posts!)
No comments regarding the situation currently appear on either Facebook page.