News German brewery claims trademark on Norse gods, threatens to sue Scandinavian breweries over usage

Discussion in 'Beer News & Releases' started by Snowcrash000, Jun 29, 2018.

  1. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Savant (959) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Trader

    This has got to be most ridiculous of these beer trademark disputes to date. I'm really not sure if these people are actually that stupid or this is just one big publicity stunt to coincide with the world cup. Too bad Germany already bit the bullet, huh?

    The German Wacken brewery, founded in 2016, claims that since the names of Norse gods, such as Loki, Tyr, Baldur, Heimdall, etc., have been part of their branding as beer names since their inception, all other breweries with the same beer names must now give those up and rebrand their beers. Not only are there literally hundreds of beers with the names of Norse gods by multiple breweries in Scandanavia, most of these also substantially predate the Wacken brewery. Oh, they also claim that Norse mythology isn't really Norse anyway but Germanic instead, so they have every right to these names, of course :rofl:.

    What is perhaps most perplexing here is that they actually managed to successfully get trademarks on all of those Norse gods, but I cannot believe that these will be upheld in a court of law. When you look at the ridiculous tone of their facebook statement, it seems pretty doubtful that they believe this themselves though, they don't really appear to have a clue what they are getting into.

    Like I said, this is most likely nothing but a publicity stunt, but a hillarious one nonetheless. Just take a look at this open letter that those clowns sent to Munkebo brewery in Denmark which was founded three years before them:

    "In this respect, please limit your assortment, take the bottles with the corresponding labels from your shop (online and offline) and also call the back from and all sales partners. We know that it takes time to make this happen. That's why we give you a deadline of three months, until September 6, 2018, after which, however, none of the labels will be allowed to appear in stores and you will no longer be permitted to advertise them."


    "In addition, we expect you to give us written confirmation that you will respect our trademarks and will no longer sell beer in violation of these trademarks, especially if this happens as described above. We expect you to return this written declaration by June 30, 2018 at the latest."


    "We really want to settle the matter without much fuss and hope very much that you will not force us to involve lawyers and in the worst case even courts."




    https://euipo.europa.eu/eSearch/#details/owners/749023
     
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  2. thebeers

    thebeers Poo-Bah (2,230) Sep 10, 2014 Pennsylvania
    Premium Trader

    We've got breweries over here claiming they own the names of fish.
     
  3. JohnnyChicago

    JohnnyChicago Crusader (794) Sep 3, 2010 Illinois

    C&Ds coming to Corona and Hite soon! :rofl:
     
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  4. zid

    zid Savant (901) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    I have no idea what brewers or situations you are talking about, but hypothetically speaking this is somewhat appropriate. For some reason, people tend to think that companies can only trademark words and expressions that they've created... a word like "Walmart." Companies can trademark existing words as part of their brand with various exceptions.

    Going with your fish theme, Halibut Brewing Co can trademark their name in order to prevent other brewers from releasing a "Halibut" beer. This can even extend into related categories like if there was a "Halibut" wine. If Gorton's Seafood wanted to trademark "halibut," they would not be able to because it's a generic word in their product space, and other businesses selling halibut would still need to be able to use it. If a company is really big and widely known, then their trademark can extend outside of their category. For example, a brewer would not be able to trademark a beer called McDonald's stout.

    A business can trademark the name of a god in connection with a product regardless of the cultural appropriation. Nike is a trademarked name. If a Greek sneaker company wanted to call their brand Nike, they'd be out of luck. It is what it is. None of that is to say that the Wacken brewery is correct or behaving nicely, or that prior use doesn't legally matter.

    @drtth
     
  5. stevepat

    stevepat Disciple (337) Mar 12, 2013 California
    Trader

    seems like a pretty good trademark primer but I think the issue here is that these names have been common among northern european brewers for generations. And since their origin is mythology I think this brewer is in for an uphill battle. Shit I even visited a brewery in Ecuador who had all of their beers named after gods from european mythology (greek and norse) that was almost 10 years old. I think this shape has sailed into public domain harbor.
     
  6. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,443) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Trader

    Of course this is protection of a trademark, necessary to protect it on an ongoing basis. But given the prior usage defense that is obviously in play for some of these breweries, and the tiny size of Wacky, err, Wacken Brewery, if I was a gambling man I would bet this is all free PR and none of these cases go into the court system.
     
  7. RaulMondesi

    RaulMondesi Poo-Bah (1,564) Dec 11, 2006 California
    Trader

    People need to listen to more Mary J Blige and stop hatin’.
     
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  8. Zorro

    Zorro Poo-Bah (4,274) Dec 25, 2003 California

    Trademarks the word "Water" in all Languages in the World.

    Please cease and desist using the word "Water" without paying royalties to me! /s
     
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  9. WesMantooth

    WesMantooth Poo-Bah (2,434) Jan 8, 2014 Ohio
    Trader

    Wacken Brewery. Nice.
     
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  10. Wiffler27

    Wiffler27 Meyvn (1,264) Aug 16, 2009 New Jersey
    Premium

    are we sure this isn't an american brewery suing?
     
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  11. MrUse

    MrUse Aspirant (267) Jun 20, 2015 Minnesota

    This is all in the public domain right? So what's the point of suing?
     
  12. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    So was "Nike" before the sneakers company trademarked it in connection with athletic shoes. You think that company would ignore some other shoe company using "Nike" as their brand name?
     
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  13. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    The only complexity I'd add to your excellent discussion is that a US granted Trademark for something like "Nike" doesn't necessarily guarantee a trademark in another country.
     
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  14. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    If it's PR it isn't going to free after the lawyer's have been paid. :sunglasses:
     
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  15. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (1,613) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
    Trader

    I don't see how you can trademark such common things as names, it's been in use far longer than they've been in business. I bet it gets overturned, and what they're marketing certinly isn't unique to them. If I'm a bigger brewery I'd threaten to tie their ass up in court and then the cost skyrockets. I might see if it's in the same country there might be a problem, but they're not, and I don't see where there would be a conflict or confusing messaging.
     
  16. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Savant (959) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Trader

    I don't think there are any lawyers involved quite yet, so far they have only threatened to involve lawyers. That's all this is, empty threats. If there were any decent lawyers involved, they would have advised them to stay the hell away from this. However, they have actually already made quite a large financial commitment by registering all those 23 trademarks. I mean, that must have cost them around 25,000€ and that's a lot of money to a small brewery like this.

    Because of that, I'm really not sure if this is a publicity stunt anymore, they could certainly have used all of that money a lot better if they were after publicity. I'm fairly sure that what they are actually doing here is trademark trolling and it's already backfiring on them. After that incredibly arrogant and aggressive letter that Wacken wrote to Munkebo, they have, of course, threatened a counter claim citing first use. To which Wacken replied that hey, we're all friends in the brewing business after all, so let's not make such a big deal outta this. "We are sure that some amendable solution can be found by setting up a contractual arrangement over the use of those names." (Source: Some German news site behind an account wall).

    In other words: We're really sorry for being such dicks, but just pay us a bunch of money and we will graciously let you use those names because we're all pals after all, right? Oh, and please don't actually take us to court over this because we know full well that we haven't got a leg to stand on. Pretty please? This is blatant trademark trolling. They invested that 25,000€ in trademarks to extort money from all of those Scandinavian breweries using those names. I really hope that they will all take them to court and ruin them financially after they already did a pretty good job of ruining their reputation themselves. Not that they had much of a reputation in the first place, their beer sucked anyway.

    Oh, by the way, here's a bit of information that many people are probably not aware of. Wacken, the tiny village that this brewery operates out of and is named after is the site of the biggest Heavy Metal festival in the world, a huge event that attracts 80,000 people every year. That's their whole angle. They opened this brewery to sell cheaply produced, crappy beer with Heavy Metal branding to metalheads. Wouldn't it be hillarious if the organisers of the festival actually sued the brewery over the Wacken brand? After all they have first use on their side. You probably can't trademark a city name though...
     
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  17. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    In the material you posted they indicate having talked to their lawyers and being advised to send out the C&D letters.
     
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  18. zid

    zid Savant (901) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    There are certainly layers and layers of complexity that would need to be added to my post (including your comment) but many people in this thread are either not reading the post or choosing to ignore it. I know next to nothing, but I still attempt to familiarize myself with the basic realities.

    Gods aren’t “public domain,” works of art (songs, books, etc) with expired copyrights are. Who would have had existing copyrights on the names of gods? I guess whoever wrote the original religious text. :wink:

    This is not the same as a trademark which is used to identify a brand. Something in the public domain can be trademarked. Names can be trademarked. Bell’s can trademark their company name even though it’s both a person’s name and a commonly used word for a common object. A brewer can’t trademark “beer.” (As far as I know)
     
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  19. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Savant (959) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Trader

    "Indicate" is the key word here though. And even if they have talked to lawyers, which seems increasingly likely given the scope this is taking on, they have not actually send out any proper legal documents. All they have done so far is send threatening personal letters saying "back off or we WILL get lawyers involved". This is a small microbrewery, I highly doubt that they have a legal department.
     
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  20. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Well your understanding of the basics matches my own but beyond the caveat I mentioned I thought you hit the right level and going any deeper at this point would not make much difference (especially when some folks won't bother to read what either of us have written :wink:).
     
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  21. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    True no legal document yet. They decided to be courteous and try to avoid legal action.

    They say they talked to lawyers, why do you think they haven't?

    BTW you don't need a legal department to hire a lawyer on an hourly basis.
     
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  22. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Savant (959) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Trader

    This is what you call "courteous"?

    "In this respect, please limit your assortment, take the bottles with the corresponding labels from your shop (online and offline) and also call the back from and all sales partners. We know that it takes time to make this happen. That's why we give you a deadline of three months, until September 6, 2018, after which, however, none of the labels will be allowed to appear in stores and you will no longer be permitted to advertise them. In addition, we expect you to give us written confirmation that you will respect our trademarks and will no longer sell beer in violation of these trademarks, especially if this happens as described above. We expect you to return this written declaration by June 30, 2018 at the latest. We really want to settle the matter without much fuss and hope very much that you will not force us to involve lawyers and in the worst case even courts."

    Keep in mind that they are saying this to a brewery that has had these names in use three times longer than they have.
     
  23. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Is that a C&D letter? No. In Trademark issues no such preliminaries are needed before sending out a C&D letter, so such advanced notification is indeed considered to be a courtesy and an attempt to avoid legal action of any kind, including a C&D letter.

    Prior use may or may not make a difference in the outcome, but since Wacken was granted the Trademarks in the first place, they own them. If the EU has the equivalent of common law usage in the US the other breweries may be able to make a case to keep their use, but will only be able to use it in their own limited existing territory.

    Keep in mind that Wacken owns the rights to those names as used in conjunction with beer and those rights were presumably granted by the legally authorized EU trademark office.
     
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  24. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Savant (959) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Trader

    I get what you guys are saying, but keep in mind that there are dozens of breweries out there that have released hundreds of beers with names related to Norse mythology years before their brewery even existed Are they really going to sue every one of those now even though those all clearly have first use on their side? This is utterly preposterous.

    This not about whether you can or cannot trademark the names of Norse gods. This is about whether you can, or rather "should" threaten to sue breweries over freshly trademarked terms when these breweries have used those names for many years ahead of you and then offer them the "courtesy" of continuing to use them if they pay you for the privilege.

    This is blatant trademark trolling and extortion (morally, not legally) and utterly despicable shitbag behaviour. Funny how everyone in here gets up in arms over frivolous lawsuits when American breweries do it, but when a European one does it they are well within their rights?

    These Wacken clowns aren't even passionate about beer, they founded their whole brewery on gimmicky branding and produce shitty beer that most people in Germany have never heard of and is hardly available anywhere except for the Wacken festival.
     
  25. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Not everyone. :sunglasses:

    As for myself, I'd be raising the exact same issues and points (as I have in the past) over US based Trademark issues and potential lawsuits.
     
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  26. zid

    zid Savant (901) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    I know nothing about this case except for what you have posted (which is not enough for me to form an opinion on).

    I’m specifically responding to the idea of what can be trademarked - which has been a component of this thread. Someone stating that these things can’t be trademarked is clearly missing the point. These things were trademarked.

    I am no expert, but I would imagine that the genuine issue here is how much weight the trademarks carry in this specific case - and the components of that are probably: prior use, distribution footprint, brand strength, and international law... not cultural appropriation, public domain, and beer passion.
     
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  27. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Savant (959) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Trader

    I guess we are in agreement then. Good thing that most of those other breweries should clearly have prior use, distribution footprint and brand strength on their side.
     
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  28. zid

    zid Savant (901) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    We are in agreement that we think those items will matter. I really don't have a position on the Wacken brewers' behavior. Cheers.
     
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  29. VABA

    VABA Poo-Bah (2,112) Aug 8, 2015 Virginia

    Just curious, you say they are not public domain, but aren't the original religious text public domain? Thus, making the Gods names public domain? Or, do they also want to attack the original religious text? Good luck with that!
     
  30. zid

    zid Savant (901) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    You can trademark something in the public domain. A trademark is not the same thing as a copyright. Break the words down. A copy-right allows the right to reproduce a work. A trade-mark is an item used to distinguish a brand from other products/companies. Someone can write their own unique story about Loki and have that story copyrighted. Someone can trademark the business entity Loki Brewing Company. These two people will probably not get into circumstances that would cause them to enter into a legal battle with each other.
     
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  31. zid

    zid Savant (901) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    I forgot to respond to this. I didn't mean to mislead anybody. I didn't mean to suggest that characters can't be in the public domain. I was really trying to distinguish the difference between copyright and trademark, and how public domain fits into that. A "work" that's in the public domain is not copyrighted. Please add this thought to the beginning of my previous post.
     
    #31 zid, Jul 3, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2018
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  32. IPAExpert69

    IPAExpert69 Initiate (161) Aug 2, 2017 New Jersey

    I said this exact statement about Stone suing Miller for Keystone and got CRUSHED. Still think I'm 100% correct on that:sunglasses:
     
  33. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Savant (959) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Trader

    Well, as it turns out, the whole point of this is to extort royalties out of the breweries who are already using these names, which is even worse though. Nothing to do with publicity, they've achieved quite the opposite there.
     
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  34. VABA

    VABA Poo-Bah (2,112) Aug 8, 2015 Virginia

    I stand corrected!

    Thanks for making things crystal clear!
     
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  35. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    There are only two things I'd add to the comments by @zid based on things in the US which are probably very simlar to the way things work in the EU.

    The first is that copyrights are usually time limited and so need to be renewed periodically or they lapse and the material goes into the public domain for anyone to use.

    The second is that trademarks don't lapse so long as they are actively used and defended when/if someone else knowingly or unknowingly starts to use them. A trademark that is not defended is lost.
     
    #35 drtth, Jul 3, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2018
  36. Tamarack

    Tamarack Initiate (50) Sep 22, 2016 Massachusetts

    If they were really trying to sell the whole "They are Germanic, not Nordic!" angle then their beers would be called Wodan, Tiwaz, Donar, etc. This is blatant cashing in on the Norse mythology/Metal community tie-in and threatening all these REAL breweries is going to bite them in the ass
     
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  37. Tamarack

    Tamarack Initiate (50) Sep 22, 2016 Massachusetts

    Their Mjolnir beer is literally called a Nordic Lager.....

    This argument is paper-thin. What a genuinely stupid business decision. They ought to be kicking themselves.
     
  38. Squire

    Squire Poo-Bah (2,013) Jul 16, 2015 Mississippi
    Premium Trader

    A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, I hope the judge is a beer drinker.
     
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  39. Snowcrash000

    Snowcrash000 Savant (959) Oct 4, 2017 Germany
    Trader

    Wacken's latest statement on this:



    "TOGETHER
    We are meanwhile in close contact with the Nordic breweries we had written to, and have offered them to keep their beer names. As soon as corresponding agreements will have been concluded, the concerned microbreweries will automatically fall under our own EU-wide trademark protection. This is the only way for them to also obtain legal security against large industrial breweries or license traders who have no sentimental attachment to Norse mythology.
    We can fully understand the intense level of emotionality reached in this discussion. We are very sorry if we have offended any religious feelings. Trademark registrations are not about having the Gods „patented“ or having them „taken away“ from someone. Names of gods have been trademarked for a very long time. There are hundreds of Norse mythology-themed registered brands, for example „Thor“ and „Odin“, registered by a large Danish brewery. The latter would certainly not allow any other brewer to use the names of the highest Norse gods.
    We are seeking for a closer cooperation with all craft brewers who, just like us, are dedicating their work to Norse mythology. Our common goal is to recount and spread the prolific sagas and myths of the Norse pantheon through our beers. Talks for a friendly collaboration are already in progress. Some ideas such as collaboration brews, joint beer festivals and charity campaigns are currently being discussed.
    We want to march side by side,
    for beer diversity and the fabulous Norse mythology!"

    The big question here is what these "corresponding agreements" will involve.
     
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  40. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,636) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Just as an FYI, part of the problem is that the use and/or heritage of ancient Norse names, etc. didn't get changed or constrained by modern day political borders. Wacken is in Northern Germany where there was a strong Norse influence that pre-dates the formation modern Germany and a political border between Denmark and Germany. Names such as Wodan, or Wotan were used in a different region of what is now part of Germany.
     
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