Strange Brew homebrew shop owner on TM dispute: “I don’t think I can handle this alone”

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Strange Brew, the Massachusetts-based homebrew store and e-shop, has the following lengthy note up on its website as of Wednesday night. The company has taken a public relations beating in social media circles after Westword reported that the company had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Colorado-based Strange Brewing Company and declined to accept a ‘compromise’ proposal.

To illustrate the social media buzz around the dispute, a Facebook page supporting Strange Brewing Company called “Keep Strange Brewing Strange” already has over 500 likes. The brewery has over 2,600 likes and the homebrew shop is just shy of 200 likes.

Also of note in the statement below, the homebrew shop is currently planning to start a brewery.

Strange Brew faces trademark threat from Colorado brewery.

Attention loyal customers, friends of Strange Brew, and others who care to hear the whole story and who care about the truth.

As you may have recently heard, Strange Brew is in the midst of a trademark dispute with a small two year old start-up microbrewery in Colorado that “coincidentally” has decided to call itself “Strange Brewing Company.”    Simply put, they are trying to profit from the valuable reputation and the good will that we have built up over the last 16 years in our brand.  They have admitted they knew of us and our name when they started, but apparently they thought they would just slip under the radar.   We have demanded that they stop, but instead of facing up to the situation, they have decided to “fight back” by stirring up a social media lynch mob,  trashing us and our lawyer for protecting our brand.  This has included several media posts that contain a completely inaccurate distortion of the real situation.  This is becoming a distraction and it is time to set the record straight.  Enough is enough.

Draw any conclusions you want, but please don’t do so until you have all the facts.  Please consider the following.

Strange Brew LLC. in Marlborough Massachusetts is a small, family owned business, that has been in existence since 1997. We are a “local business” just like Strange Brewing Company.  We sell quality products, just like they do.   We have worked hard for years to provide quality home-brewing supplies and brewing advice to the local, national, and international brewing community. We currently hold a federal trademark for both beer, and beer and winemaking supplies. We are, in short, no bigger than the folks in Denver, the only difference is that we have been around for almost two decades, selling quality products and slowly building a valuable brand.  We have taken the right steps to protect our brand, like any other well run business, and for that we are now being  branded as bullies. We sell supplies through a number of retail, and online outlets, including dozens of current customers in Colorado, a place that has become one of the standout microbrewery capitals of the country, and we’re proud to be a part of it.

We are also  currently in the process of opening a small brewery in Massachusetts. Through the years we have also sold beer products, and we are now focused on expanding that division as our business continues to grow.

Strange Brewing Co. has admitted that they were aware of us when they started their own business using our name. They have stated their belief that due to our geographic distance, and the fact that they only sell beer, not beer supplies, there should be no reason to complain.  Here is the problem.  First, like it or not, their decision to copy our name is causing confusion.  We live in a wireless, digital age where geographic factors are more irrelevant each day.  The fact that we are on the East Coast is meaningless.  We continually do business with our Colorado customers, and have repeatedly had customers, both from Colorado and elsewhere,  comment to us that they tried “our beer” in Denver.  Some of our vendors and suppliers have also been confused, and in a couple of cases we were unable to purchase supplies on credit because of a negative credit reference that arose after payments were mistakenly applied to the wrong account, due to the similarity in our names.  Finally, we have been unfairly portrayed as trying to “steal” their name, as if this is a David and Goliath scenario in which we are some corporate giant, like Starbucks or Coca-Cola, mercilessly picking on the little guy.  That’s just not the case.    They try to portray us as thieves – but who is the real thief here?  The ones who have been around since 1997 or the ones who decided to copy our brand less than two years ago, instead of doing it the old fashioned way and coming with a brand of their own?  Who is stealing from whom?

We have to protect our assets, just like any small business trying to make it in today’s world.  We have struggled hard to get where we are, not through harassing our competitors with some social media rant, but through selling good products and backing up our brand.   We would be disloyal to our customers and our families if we didn’t try to protect what we have earned.   To maintain OUR federal trademark rights, we cannot allow another similar business to use our name and hijack the good will we have earned.

We were forced to hire a lawyer and send a cease and desist letter to the infringing company.

Knowing that they have no legal defense here,  Strange Brewing Company in Colorado has decided, rather than to face up to the mistake they made, to start a social media war, hoping that they can beat us into submission.   Fortunately, the U.S. system of justice is not about popularity contests, or who is better at sending anonymous (but easily traceable) hate mail through web portals.  It  is based on application of the law to the facts, and in this case, if necessary, a court is going to find that the Strange Brewing Company has infringed our trademark rights.  It’s that simple. They claim that they want to avoid a costly legal battle and collaborate, but their only offer has been to allow us to clone their recipe kits. How exactly is that fair? They copy our valuable name, and then “offer” to let us sell their product?  Seriously?  We too would prefer to spend our time and money doing something besides going to court, but if that is the only offer on the table, then thanks but no thanks.   We have to, and will, protect our brand and the 16-year investment we have made, and we are tired of playing games.

I do not personally know the people from Strange Brewing Company. I am sure that they make good beer, and work hard and they obviously have a loyal following, but the issue of integrity and personal responsibility seems somehow to have been lost.  I  was ready to assume that they were also ‘nice guys’ but I question their approach to dealing with this clear-cut legal matter.  They have posted our privileged legal communications in an attempt to paint themselves as the victim here.  Not  so – if there is a victim here it is us, not them.  The local Denver press seems to have picked up on this as well, but so far not one of the journalists has bothered to get our side of the story or even attempt to get their facts straight.

‘Someone’ started a Facebook page called ‘Keep Strange Brewing Strange’ in support of the company that is currently infringing upon our trademark. This campaign is picking up steam, and spreading slanderous, hateful speech, which is causing damage to the brand that we have spent decades building.

We were forced to temporarily suspend our Facebook page while we deal with the barrage of untrue and hateful comments about Strange Brew.  The site is back up now, but our Yelp rating is dropping fast.  Please don’t let this happen.  We also invite you to come sample our products as well, and maybe you will understand the reputation we have worked so hard to earn.

While I am always hesitant to ask for help, I don’t think I can handle this alone.

Any support you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

 

Thank you,

Brian Powers

Strange Brew
Beer and Beer and Winemaking Supplies

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23 thoughts on “Strange Brew homebrew shop owner on TM dispute: “I don’t think I can handle this alone”

  1. This is the most ridiculous rebuttal note I have ever read. Lets analyze this and break it down a bit…
    1) “Simply put they are trying to profit from the valuable reputation and the good will that we have built up over the last 16 years in our brand.” Are you kidding me?

    Are you really so narcissistic to believe that Strange Brewing chose their name to bank off of some irrelevant home brew store in Massachusetts, or are you just that out of touch with pop culture to think that the movie and song had no impression on any other beer/pop culture fan?
    2) “We have demanded that they stop, but instead of facing up to the situation, they have decided to “fight back” by stirring up a social media lynch mob, trashing us and our lawyer for protecting our brand.”

    Actually coverage of your suit was covered by a local online publication and the backlash was a result of the brewing community, which is based on community and cooperation, standing up for your lack of community and partnership. These are not the ideals which has helped to make the craft beer industry boom, this not what has made this industry as successful as it is today. And when you disrupt that community, those people and businesses as a whole will stand up for those who are being wronged.
    3) Finally, we have been unfairly portrayed as trying to “steal” their name, as if this is a David and Goliath scenario in which we are some corporate giant, like Starbucks or Coca-Cola, mercilessly picking on the little guy.

    False.

    4)”We would be disloyal to our customers and our families if we didn’t try to protect what we have earned.”

    You are being disloyal to the craft beer industry through your legal actions.

    5)”Strange Brewing Company in Colorado has decided, rather than to face up to the mistake they made, to start a social media war, hoping that they can beat us into submission.”

    The only thing Strange has done on social media to address those actions was one reposting of The Westword’s article on their own Facebook page.

    6)”They have posted our privileged legal communications in an attempt to paint themselves as the victim here.”

    Again false.

    7)”We were forced to temporarily suspend our Facebook page while we deal with the barrage of untrue and hateful comments about Strange Brew. The site is back up now, but our Yelp rating is dropping fast. Please don’t let this happen.”

    Cry me a river.

    Here’s the deal Brian Powers, you are completely entitled to legal actions, but the whole PR shit storm you now face is a result of your own miscues. As I’ve mentioned before the beer community is about lending a helping hand, about promoting craft beer, and about supporting those like minded individuals who share those same ideals. This open letter about needing help is a joke, after following the events that have transpired since the Westword first published their post, your note seems to be the only one actively trying to victimize. So quit your pity party and take responsibility for your actions. Sure you can sue, but what good does it really do? Nothing. Go back to selling your product and let Strange Brewing Company go back to selling theirs.

  2. Hmmm, I wonder how Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas feel about them both. I would think that the movie would still have a copyright on the name. Funny how Mr. Powers is going after Strange Brewing and not the Strange Brew Homebrew club in Oregon, one would think they are closer to using his trademark than Strange Brewing. Mr. Powers should just drop his case and relax and have a homebrew. His case is making him look like a whining S.O.B.

  3. LOL, Just noticed that Strange Brew Homebrewing supplies is using the Grateful Dead’s Dancing Bear as their logo. Is this guy for real? People that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  4. What Powers doesn’t understand is that there is more than one way to protect your trademark. Having a lawyer write a letter like that and then come back with the response he did to Strange Brewings offer, is one way. Sadly, it is the way that will get you ostracized by the craft beer community. At the end of the day there are quite a few breweries that share similar names and/or beer names. Doesn’t seem to hurt any of them. Since the odds of either Strange Brew or Strange Brewing ever becoming anything more than a regional player are pretty slim…who really cares?

    By the way, I thought that Strange Brewing’s offer to work with Strange Brew on a homebrew kit was incredibly generous and certainly would have been more beneficial to Strange Brew than this ill-advised attempt to make people feel sorry for them by publishing this stupid letter. It seems that Powers is so disconnected from the craft beer community that he doesn’t realize that, in almost every case, when somebody sues someone else rather than working on a cooperative solution they are the ones that look like an a-hole.

    Is Powers technically within his rights, and would he win the lawsuit? Perhaps…but at what cost? Approaching it this way is almost certain to cost him a substantial amount of business, maybe even enough to put him out of business. With this little business sense or feel for the craft beer drinker, I don’t know that he could survive too much longer in this market anyway. Win or lose, Powers has destroyed any reputation he might have had by his heavy handed approach to this matter.

  5. So a Massachusetts company who rips their name off of a Cream song, issues a cease and desist letter to a brewery who did the same thing? C’mon. You’re a complete hypocrite.

  6. If there’s one thing I know, it’s everything, and while I generally find these sort of intellectual property disputes to be petty and annoying, I have to say I agree with Mr. Powers on this one. While I don’t believe that the Colorado brewery used the name to try to profit off the homebrew store’s trademark, I do believe that their use is wrong, mostly because it seems to be creating genuine problems for the homebrew store.

    When you KNOWINGLY use the same or very similar name of another company in the SAME INDUSTRY, you’re asking for this. If they’re all about collaboration and what not, they should have contacted the homebrew store from the beginning and tried to work something out. Otherwise, come up with another name you dumbasses. It was just plain stupid to do this knowingly, and even more stupid to admit they knew. I don’t see how people are putting the blame on the homebrew shop.

    Was Mr. Powers’ letter a little too preachy and ranty? Yeah, a PR guy would have helped here. But, I think he has a right to be T-O’d, especially since the name confusion has created a variety of legit problems for his business.

    Look, I know everyone’s all about the beer, and doing what’s best for the industry, and just getting along, and free sex – and all that’s cool – but when your money and reputation are on the line, the game changes. It’s easy to thoughtlessly click Like on Facebook for something like this because these days anyone that files a lawsuit is considered a dick. But the truth, in my opinion, is that if the name is causing genuine confusion and other issues, it needs to be changed. And that wasn’t going to happen without legal action.

    So, what’s going to happen next? All too predictable. I’ll wager a case of beer that Strange Brewing Company produces some cleverly named beer related to the dispute. Who’s going to be sending me a case of it?

  7. Based on my understanding of trademark law, it doesn’t matter whether Cream has a song called “Strange Brew” and there is a homebrew shop of the same name. For example, Monster Energy Drink and Monster Cables are able to co-exist. They are a different class of goods. What I’m not sure about is the dancing bear image. I can’t imagine that an electronics manufacturer could use the McDonalds “M” prominently as part of its logo (again, an example).

  8. MGM Studios, Dave Thomas, and Rick Moranis should sue both of them, for infringement on the 1983 “The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew”

    Alternately, both parties could zip up their pants and go home.

  9. From a legal perspective Strange Brewing is in a tough spot. While I do not want them to have to change their name, if this goes to court they are not going to win. For those adamant supporters of Strange Brewing I’d ask this of you – why trash Strange Brew’s rating on yelp and ratebeer? Is that really what we are about? Because a business has a legal right to a name we turn on them and trash their business? How is that in the spirit of cooperation that we so dearly want? I doubt Strange Brewing wants you to trash Strange Brew’s reputation.

    When you push a business into a corner, much like a person, they are going to react. In this case all you are doing is fueling the fire to defend the Strange Brew name. Falsely trashing their reputation by reviewing their business which you have never been to is just wrong. Hopefully ratebeer and yelp step up and remove those bad and incorrect reviews.

  10. From a legal perspective Strange Brewing is going to win if this clown goes as far as taking them to court. His trademark is for a retail store, not for a brewery. As others have pointed out similar names in different industries coexist, as much as you’d like to say that homebrewing is related to craft brewing it is as related as a grocery store is to as bread maker. Did this clown make up Strange Brew on its own? No. Just as the movie and song are different than his store so is the brewery.

  11. @Sam C.: The trademark is for both “beer” and “Retail stores featuring beer and wine making supplies” as per the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). I assume the “beer” part is what the issue is and what Strange Brew is pinning their trademark infringement on (though that is just an assumption on my part).

    With people referencing the marching Grateful Dead bear being trademarked (I assume that is what people are alluding to with “Grateful Dead should file suit” comments). I am having trouble finding the trademark. I found one with the marching bear for “entertainment services; namely, live performances by a musical group.” but that was canceled May 25, 2011. Any help finding that trademark would be appreciated.

  12. the marching bears came from a generic type face, also used by Bear Wheel Alignment for years before they appeared on a Grateful Dead album

  13. @SamC.: The image I was going off of (something from google images) had a circle R after the bear (which the wikipedia one has too, better copy of the image: http://www.dead.net/sites/deadbeta.rhino.com/files/dancing-bears-sticker-2.jpg) without the copyright text, so I was unaware of that bit. Also being that most logos are trademarked, I believed the trademark search would work (though the bears being a piece of artwork on an album must help them qualify for copyright I guess).

  14. I had never heard of either of these businesses before the Westwood post. Interesting PR move. ;>)

  15. It is interesting to see the slanderous remarks made towards Mr Powers, all designed to create damage to his business, that was legally started and trademarked over 10 years ago.

  16. @bruce, it is equally interesting to see how many alias’s Mr. Powers tries to create to try and do some damage control by attacking those who have attacked him. It is time for him to give up on this before he damages his own reputation further. The little homebrew shop thinks it is ok for them to rip off others ideas and then be the only exclusive one to then reuse them. Strange Brew is a generic term and he’ll lose in court. The Dead’s dancing bear is a complete rip off of a copyrighted item but he thinks he is above the law and can use it. I wouldn’t ever do business with anyone so low down and shady.

  17. Pingback: Strange Brewing founder on trademark dispute with homebrew shop: “It’s idiotic” | BeerPulse

  18. one thing i have noticed about bullies is that they accuse others of what they themselves are doing… strange brew is the injured party here and all these posts defending strange brewing are doing exactly what they accuse Strange Brew’s defenders of doing.

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