Sierra Nevada Brewing, Narwhal LLC locked in trademark dispute over ‘Narwhal’ name

narwhal brewery logo

(Brooklyn, NY) – Another trademark battle surfaced on Friday, this one between a brewery hopeful and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

The timeline…

Sierra Nevada Brewing filed an application for the mark, “Narwhal,” on June 11th.
Narwhal, LLC, filed an application for the same mark on September 24th.
Sierra Nevada released Narwhal Imperial Stout in 4-packs and draft in late October.
The USPTO approved Sierra Nevada’s mark for registration, accepting its statement of use on November 25th.

Narwhal, however, claims to have been using the name for the past two years. Here is the company’s full statement released on its website on Friday.

Dear Friends and Fans,

We have been diligently working to launch the brewery in Brooklyn in 2013. I wish we could say that all our efforts have been devoted to making that happen, but instead we have been engaged in a trademark dispute with Sierra Nevada Brewery. As many of you may know, Sierra Nevada recently released Narwhal Imperial Stout. We have been using this name since 2010 and working hard to build our brand with it. We contacted Sierra Nevada prior to the release and at first, discussions with them were very positive. They sympathized with our situation as they were also founded by passionate homebrewer’s in their garage. We agreed we would not take any action to hinder their scheduled release and they agreed to withdraw their trademark application so that we could properly file for ours. Word of advice to anyone starting anything: file for a federal trademark immediately (www.uspto.gov). We did not and now are in this situation, LESSON LEARNED. We did however create our company in New York and started using the name.

After they released their imperial stout, we received a letter from a trademark attorney hired by Sierra Nevada basically stating they were changing their minds and that they would fight us on this. We don’t fault them for taking this position or for anyone to want to protect their trademarks. However, in this case we clearly were using the name first and will explore all our options to protect our brand and identity.

We would greatly appreciate any help or thoughts you may have and please reach out to Sierra Nevada (Sierra Nevada Facebook) to let them know that you support small businesses. We do not want to engage in a lengthy and costly legal battle against a giant company with deep pockets, but will do what’s necessary and what we believe is right. We have asked through their attorney to have a meeting to discuss to no avail. We hope we can resolve this soon and believe there is a solution where all parties come out happy.

We will keep you posted here and on our Facebook page. Thank you all for your support and kind words so far. Hopefully we will be able to get to launching the brewery soon and bringing more great craft beer to the world

Sincerely,

Kevin and Basil

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This led to a number of messages on Sierra Nevada’s Facebook page and emails being sent to the brewery on Friday. Here’s an example of a copy-and-pasted message that appeared a few times.

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I think that what you’re doing to the folks at Narwhal Brewery is shameful. For the last two years, Narwhal’s founders have built a name and perfected their craft offerings, and it has not been easy work. Knowing that Narwhal Brewery reached out to you with their concerns, you agreed to a limited launch of the Narwhal Imperial Stout, and have since reneged on that makes fear for the future of small craft breweries. It also makes me want to never drink your beer again, which saddens me because it’s damn good beer.

To launch a beer under the Narwhal name and knowingly stick it to the small guys is shameful.

BeerPulse also contacted Sierra Nevada on Friday after learning about the dispute. Here is the company’s statement:

At Sierra Nevada, launching a new product or a new brand takes lots of time and effort with many hands involved in the process. For months or sometimes years before a new beer hits store shelves, we’re busily doing pilot brews, research, and turning over as many stones as possible to ensure any new beer has the best chance of success once it leaves our home.

When we begin to look for a beer name, we look at many aspects. First and foremost, does the name fit the beer style? Is it appropriate for our brand? Is it compelling? In addition to those questions, we spend a great deal of time looking into possible conflicts with any future branding.

In the case of Narwhal Imperial Stout—like all of the beers we’ve launched before it— we did extensive searches on the TTB labeling database, the patent & trademark office, state liquor boards, and even went as far as to search consumer-focused sites like Beeradvocate.com and RateBeer.com to see if there are any other products—beer or wine—of which we might run afoul.

In the searches for Narwhal, we found no other beers based or sold in the United States.

It isn’t our intention to damage any aspiring or emerging craft brewery. Throughout the past 32 years, we’ve worked time-and-again to offer help and assistance to our fellow brewers. We aren’t trying to step on anyone’s toes; we didn’t even know there were toes to step on. Based on the fact that there are no beers in commerce and no record of liquor licensing we believe that we are in the clear to continue using Narwhal as the name of our beer.

At the end of the day, we’re looking to create beers and brands that are engaging and complex and help us further the story of what we’re all about here at Sierra Nevada—making the best beers we possibly can. We hope we can find an amicable solution and can continue the community spirit that comes with making and drinking great craft beers.

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Looking at the big picture, there are dozens of ongoing disputes like this right now. The best thing a new operation can do is start the trademark process immediately, even if you don’t know whether you’re going to end up using the term. You still have at least a few years to prove that you’re using it and the worst case scenario is that if you ditch that brand, you’re only out a few hundred dollars.

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