The strata within craft beer is starting to define itself, through lawsuits and copyright infringements. Big Beer maybe buying up Craft Beer but it seems as though even craft beer is trying to eat each other in the booming business. No longer are the “little” breweries viewed as harmless.
A not so little brewery, Bell’s Brewery out of Michigan, is suing Innovation Brewing of North Carolina. Bell’s claims the smaller’s brewery’s name is an infringement on their slogan, “bottling innovation since 1985.” The larger brewery has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the North Carolina brewery’s name might cause confusion in the market place.
Bell’s Brewery made more than 310,000 barrels last year, more than any brewery in Washington State. Innovation Brewing, brewed 500 barrels last year. That’s smaller than Aslan (842) or Wander (743) brewed last year.
“We are very disappointed,” said Nicole Dexter, who founded Innovation in 2013 with her partner Chip Owen. The two came up with the Innovation name after finding creative means of assembling their brewing system.
“Innovation is what we had to do to make everything work,” Owen said. “We had limited funds” and Owen assembled the system himself.
Costly legal fees are preventing Innovation from purchasing brewing equipment, Owen and Dexter said.
I think this is ludicrous, regardless of the disparity in brewing capacity. It reminds us of the recent suit Lagunitas levied against Sierra Nevada for design infringement of their Hop Hunter IPA packaging. I wonder if the legal teams of these larger breweries see an opportunity and counsel their breweries to act.
Bell’s “bottling innovation since 1985” isn’t even a registered trademark for the brewery, isn’t on it’s packaging, but it is printed on bumper stickers. In the suit it does say their could also be confusion with Bell’s slogan “Inspired Brewing.”
“There are 3,000 craft breweries, 9,000 wineries, 1,000 distilleries and many out-of-country alcohol producers and we are all sharing one basket of names,” said Innovation attorney Douglas Reiser. Defending names and trademarks is costly, with legal fees reaching into the realm of $40,000-$50,000.