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Strange Brewing Company faces a trademark threat from a Massachusetts homebrew shop

Discussion in 'Beer News' started by Chin17, Nov 9, 2012.

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  1. geocool

    geocool Jun 21, 2006 Massachusetts

    I think it's cool that while this debate rages on, here is news of another brewery that has done things right:
    Let's give credit where credit is due and wonder why the guys running the Denver brewery couldn't be cool like these guys.
    mschofield likes this.
  2. StarRaptor

    StarRaptor Jun 8, 2010 California

    Quickly, everyone that doesn't have a degree in trademark and patent law offer up their opinion on who the good guy and bad guy in this situation is
  3. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    I don't see why one would need to be an expert on the law to have an opinion on the behavior here. There is certainly more to this than trademark law
  4. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    "couldn't be cool"? There are two parties involved here, and only one has publicly made ridiculously false accusations and refused to sit down and have a conversation about it.
  5. dennho

    dennho Oct 29, 2006 New York

    So let me get this straight. Strange Brew has been in business under that name since 1997, gotten a trademark for the name in 2007, but they're the bad guys for not giving in and giving up on their name? A name they had to pay to trademark originally. They should just give the use of their trademarked name to a couple of guys who've been in business for two plus years?

    Check out Strange Brews facebook page and see all the Colorado people posting on it and slamming them. Probably the same few people that rate all their beers highly on BA. I don't see it happening to Strange Brewings facebook.

    I started homebrewing last month. I'll bottle my first batch this Sunday. I bought everything online from Northern Brewer. I live about an hour from Strange Brew but my next batch will be something I get from them.
  6. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    I don't believe anyone has suggested they are "bad guys" for not giving up the name. We've questioned their tactics, including the needlessly combative letters from the attorney, accusing Strange Brewing of ignoring the trademark dispute and "promoting" themselves because they were interviewed for an article in the Denver Post during GABF week (along with a handful of other small Denver breweries), falsely accusing Strange Brewing of "stirring up a social media lynch mob" and "starting a social media war", claiming that Strange Brewing intentionally tried to infringe on their trademark in an attempt to profit from the homebrew shop's reputation (apparently unaware that hardly anyone outside of MA knew who they were, what "reputation"?), falsely attributing the stories in the media to Strange Brewing, falsely claiming that Strange Brewing started a new Facebook page to influence the situation, and ignoring Strange Brewing's request to meet and discuss the situation.

    Is Strange Brewing Company an infringement on the Strange Brew trademark? I'd say more likely than not, but I don't know for sure, I'm not a trademark lawyer, and I could see plausible arguments for both sides. That is for a judge to decide, or for the two companies to work out between themselves. Strange Brewing probably should have consulted an attorney before choosing the name. But that doesn't change the fact that the homebrew shop has handled the situation very poorly, including making many blatantly untrue accusations and taking a combative approach from the word go.

    All of the negative backlash could have been avoided if they'd handled this better, and the negative backlash has nothing to do with Strange Brewing.
    kemoarps likes this.
  7. Oxymoron

    Oxymoron Aug 14, 2005 Colorado

    I find this more hypocritical than anything. Strange Brew sells kits with other breweries beers. If they are worried about trade marketing and protecting brand identity why do they sell products that are someone else's brand. And I know, I know...clone beers are good ways to identify style BUT, you will notice that Three Hearted Ale is not available at Northern Brewer. Meh

    Bud Light Lager

    Bud Light Ale

    Fat Tire Clone

    Heron Pale Ale

    Oldcastle Brown Ale
  8. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    If you have a trademark you have to defend it your'll lose it, the problem is with how they went about it, not with trying to protect the trademark in the first place. Nothing wrong with selling clone kits, pretty sure that's not trademark infringement
  9. dennho

    dennho Oct 29, 2006 New York

    All of the negative backlash could have been avoided if they'd handled this better, and the negative backlash has nothing to do with Strange Brewing.[/quote]

    As someone better spoken than myself said "it's just how the sausage is made".

    This is business. Strange Brewing should not be suprised by this. They were aware someone had trademarked the name and chose to ignore it?
  10. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    They were aware someone had trademarked the name Strange Brew, which isn't quite the same thing as Strange (yes they are Strange Brewing Company, but the name is really Strange, many/most breweries have "Brewing Company" or "Brewery" after their name). It's certainly very close, I don't know how a judge would rule on that, but in my non-professional non-lawyer opinion I'd say it's likely the brewery would lose. But I can also see how someone else might think it was different enough to not be infringement. Like I said, they should have talked to a lawyer before settling on the name.

    As for "how the sausage is made", I'd say that's a pretty big cop-out after the fact. There was no need to be as combative as they were, especially in the 2nd letter. The first one was not so bad, the 2nd was ridiculous. It's well within their right to do so, but it makes them look like jerks. What would be the downside of picking up the phone, being cordial, and discussing it like adults? Who knows, maybe Strange Brewing would have told them to get bent, and then the homebrew shop could lawyer up and send letters even more sternly worded and threatening than they already did. But by choosing to go that route from the get go they opened themselves up for criticism.

    Sure, it's business, and everyone is trying to make a buck, but that shouldn't be a boilerplate excuse for being a jerk when it's not necessary to do so.
  11. dennho

    dennho Oct 29, 2006 New York

    I think all home brew shops sell clones of other breweries beers as do the big boys like NB & Midwest. Three Hearted is available at NB but they had to change the name from Three Hearted. That was Bells choice and NB respected it. There may have been some nasty lawyer letters sent about it.
  12. dennho

    dennho Oct 29, 2006 New York

    That's what lawyers get paid to do.
    Beerandraiderfan likes this.
  13. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    Sure, and before paying the lawyer to do what lawyers do, they could have contacted Strange to talk about it, or they could have paid the lawyer to do what he does but tell him not to say silly things like their offer was "offensive" and falsely accuse them of promoting the infringing name by answering a reporter's questions. They chose not to, and they're paying the price in bad publicity and people trashing them on the internet. Is it fair? Maybe not. But that's how the sausage is made.

    Also, the lawyer did not post that ridiculous open letter on the internet, that was the owner of the homebrew shop.

    Plenty of disputes in the brewing community have been worked out without situations like this. The owner of Strange Brew made his bed.
    kemoarps likes this.
  14. dennho

    dennho Oct 29, 2006 New York

    I don't think Strange Brew is losing business over this. He's going to start getting mine.
    The people trashing him seem to be Colorado people, not his local customers.
    Beerandraiderfan likes this.
  15. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    Then he shouldn't care what people say about him on the internet
  16. dennho

    dennho Oct 29, 2006 New York

    We're all humans. Isn't it human nature?
  17. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    Yes, it is human nature to express dismay when you realize you made a mistake and have to deal with the consequences of it

  18. geocool

    geocool Jun 21, 2006 Massachusetts

    Yes, it's a total coincidence. People in Denver just randomly all decided to get their panties in a twist and get pissed off at a MA homebrew shop for asserting their legal rights.
    mschofield and JrGtr like this.
  19. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    So what do you think Strange did? Sent out Facebook messages telling people to go hate on the homebrew shop? Created fake Facebook accounts to go do it themselves? Posted a flyer in the brewery? The news came out, people didn't like it and they reacted, how is Strange to blame for that?
    fooziex likes this.
  20. geocool

    geocool Jun 21, 2006 Massachusetts

    The news came out because the Denver brewery made it public, along with their (obviously doomed) intention to keep their name. When you know you can't win playing by the rules, you appeal to the public and hope they will bully you a path to victory.
    GonzoHomebrewer and mschofield like this.
  21. ablackshear

    ablackshear Sep 17, 2010 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    Some angry locals posting on facebook will "bully a path" to a judge ignoring trademark law? OK

    Anyways, the story became public after the lawyer sent that ridiculous 2nd letter, after Strange asked to meet with them and talk about it. Both parties should have handled it better, but the homebrew shop cannot claim the high ground just because they likely have the stronger legal case. Having a stronger case doesn't mean you should do the silly things he did.
  22. Danielbt

    Danielbt May 4, 2012 Texas

    My website and magazine, Brew Advocate, will launching shortly then. I'll just refer back to this thread in legal briefs after ignoring your C&D letters, thanks.

  23. geocool

    geocool Jun 21, 2006 Massachusetts

    What thread? Is there a thread here?
  24. mschofield

    mschofield Oct 16, 2002 Massachusetts

  25. psuKinger

    psuKinger Feb 2, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I guess I'm in the minority here, but from what I understand, this is pretty clear-cut. And please, keep in mind, I'd never heard of the "Strange" homebrew shop, nor the "Strange" brewery before all of this. I don't live in Massachusetts or Colorado. I'm not a home-brewer. I am truly impartial on this matter.

    I believe the homebrew shop in Massachusetts was first. They took the name first. I heard on a podcast (maybe Beer Download?) that the "Strange Homebrew Shop" is a very popular/successful one on the internet amongst homebrewers.

    The homebrew shop has received numerous emails from customers asking questions or congratulating them on their "beers", which are not theirs, but rather this new brewery in Colorado. So clearly their is brand-confusion here.

    I even believe I might have heard (although i don't know this to be true) that the use of the name "Strange" by the new brewery wasn't a complete coincidence; at the very least, I believe they've admitted that they knew the homebrew shop existed, and they chose to disregard that and take the name anyway.

    If what I've heard is true, then there is a lot of misdirected hostility out there, both in this thread and elsewhere. This is why laws like this exist, and why "brands" are a real thing. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't start up a "Kellogs Brewery" or a "Tony The Tiger" brewery, even though beer and children's cereal are completely different industries/products. So I don't think the argument that "brewery" and "homebrew shop" aren't selling the same product, and therefore this doesn't matter, holds water.

    If I'm mistaken about any of the above, then I apologize. But if all of that is true, then the small business in Massachusetts has every right to protect the "brand" that he has worked so hard to develop.
  26. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    I think the first thing you need to do is make sure you get the names correct.

    The homebrew shop is called: Strange Brew
    The brewery is called: Strange

    Are those names close enough and the businesses in close enough of the same business to cause confusion? Maybe. Maybe even probably.

    Is it clear cut? Not to me. I think Strange Brew has a clear advantage if it goes to court, but I wouldnt guarantee a victory.
  27. Ricelikesbeer

    Ricelikesbeer Nov 29, 2006 Colorado

    I think it's funny that people keep saying there was "brand confusion" because people were congratulating Strangebrew for their beers. (They have in no way lost money because people buy a beer in CO.)

    Bottom line is: The names are different, and one is a brewery, the other is a homebrew shop. I don't get how this is even an issue, but I do understand that the legal world doesn't use that sort of common sense. I'm sure some stupid loop hole will be used to find favor for the prosecuting homebrew shop. I also wouldn't gaurantee a victory though. After all, it's been pointed out by Jason Alstrom that there is like, 20 other places that have a variation of the names. Maybe the shop should go after all of them too.
  28. Ricelikesbeer

    Ricelikesbeer Nov 29, 2006 Colorado

    Anyone know of any progress or updates on this whole mess?
  29. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    Its the legal system, check back next summer.
    Beerandraiderfan and kemoarps like this.
  30. Ricelikesbeer

    Ricelikesbeer Nov 29, 2006 Colorado

    True. Hopefully the shop drops it anyway. I think it's been nothing but bad press for them, and I think that's justified.
  31. Rempo

    Rempo Jan 18, 2010 Indiana

    In the future, I would steer clear of any trademark dispute threads on BA. This one follows the blueprint of all the others.
    Beerandraiderfan and MarkIntihar like this.
  32. geoffsm12

    geoffsm12 Mar 11, 2010 Illinois

    did you miss the part about the homebrew shop's plans to start brewing? therefore making it a brewery?
  33. Ricelikesbeer

    Ricelikesbeer Nov 29, 2006 Colorado

    Plans since when? Since the lawsuit started? I saw nothing that would indicate that they had more than a mere thought to start brewing. I don't think that is legally binding.
  34. Ricelikesbeer

    Ricelikesbeer Nov 29, 2006 Colorado

    As an update to this garbage, I spoke with the owner of Strange (at Parade of Darks fest in Denver). He mentioned that he is still reaching out to the shop, but hasnt' heard back from them in a week or two. He's expecting another letter from the lawyer soon. haha. He also said he's not too focused on the situation right now, which tells me that they have it pretty well handled.
  35. geoffsm12

    geoffsm12 Mar 11, 2010 Illinois

    I don't have insight into the owner's timeline, but it was referenced several times in this thread and some of the material out of the homebrew shop. Does it matter if he had concrete plans in motion or it was still just a pipe dream? He had the foresight to registere the trademark for beer and for brewing supplies in case he wanted to brew one day.
  36. Beerandraiderfan

    Beerandraiderfan Apr 14, 2009 Nevada

    Generally good advice, but the Bruery is kind of a grey area here.
    3rdto1st likes this.
  37. Beerandraiderfan

    Beerandraiderfan Apr 14, 2009 Nevada

    Um, those breweries both had beers named Salvation. Just sayin', you might have missed the most important aspect of that story.
  38. geocool

    geocool Jun 21, 2006 Massachusetts

    My point is that a dispute over the name of a beer is fundamentally different from a dispute over the name of your entire company. I can't believe I need to explain this (or that I'm bothering).
  39. Ricelikesbeer

    Ricelikesbeer Nov 29, 2006 Colorado

    Yes, but the point that I was trying to bring up by referencing the Salvation beers was that the two breweries came together when they had an issue, which clearly isnt' going to happen here. I don't think that Strange offered that great of an offer to the homebrew shop, but at least they have been willing so far to open the door and talk it out, rather than duke it out with lawyers at the podium.
  40. geocool

    geocool Jun 21, 2006 Massachusetts

    Nobody misunderstood your point. Good for them for handling a completely different situation differently.
    JrGtr likes this.
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