In June of 2014, the United States craft brewing industry hit an impressive number: more than 3,000 breweries are in operation in this country. With all those beers flooding the market, the likelihood that there are or will be legal fights over “original” names is also high.
NPR recently interviewed Candace L. Moon, also known as The Craft Beer Attorney, who helps brewers with legal matters that may arise during startup or the running of a brewery, such as naming.
According to Moon, many breweries think they are the first to come up with “hopcentric puns and catchphrases,” but this is not the case.
“Name overlaps may not matter as long as the beers are sold in different regions, but in such cases, Moon says, would-be conflicts often go unresolved.
“When two large breweries with broad distribution are involved, the matter is almost always settled, sometimes amicably.”
The story goes on to cite a sample case involving brewers in Colorado and California that had both named their beer Salvation. Appropriately, at a beer festival they decided to compromise by combining their brews into a blend called — wait for it — Collaboration Not Litigation Ale. Per the site details, the brewers “celebrated deep into the night (or is that morning?).
Not all brew naming disputes are resolved in such a friendly, collaborative way.
As the story notes, in July 2013, SweetWater Brewing Co. in Georgia sent Lagunitas Brewing Co. in California a cease-and-desist order to stop using the marijuana code “420”
in its beer — a beer it had been making since the 1990s called 420 Extra Pale Ale. After taking the matter to Twitter, Lagunitas owner, Tony Magee, ultimately acquiesced.
“I decided, ‘You want to own 420, fine, you can have it,’ And it’s true: They legitimately owned it.”
Since American trademark law places breweries, wineries and distilleries in the same category, crafting an original brew name is that much more difficult. It can result, as the story cleverly summarizes, in a “bitter end.”