Anheuser-Busch and Big Sky Brewing Lock Horns in Trademark Battle

Businesses must protect their trademarks. Brand confusion can be devastating for a business. Yada, yada, yada. It’s all true, but I still find it an unpleasant part of the beer business­­­. Usually, these kinds of litigation-related stories are about larger companies going after smaller companies. As craft beer lovers, we grow defensive and sometimes irrational when a big brewery attacks one of our local heroes. We get all worked up whenever the word trademark appears in the title of a blog post like this one.

We hate to admit it, but sometimes there is merit to these legal maneuvers. Sometimes Goliath is acting within the bounds of law and reason when he attacks David. More often, it is not a matter of right versus wrong, but a matter of who has the most money to spend on fast-talking, three-name lawyers. Merit is trumped by the almighty dollar. That’s what we hate and that is why we get all worked up over these kinds of trademark issues.

But what if the tables were turned? What if a craft brewery went after Anheuser-Busch InBev? Would craft beer lovers still work themselves into a tizzy over these kinds of legal shenanigans? Moreover, would David have any hope of defeating Goliath? If they attacked Anheuser-Busch, would Big Sky Brewing have any hope of winning?

We will see. Big Sky Brewing of Missoula, Montana is going after Anheuser-Busch InBev regarding a trademark issue. It all revolves around a slogan that Big Sky Brewing trademarked several years ago: “Hold my beer and watch this.”

Big Sky Brewing has owned a trademark on the phrase since 2009. “Hold my beer and watch this” appears on cans of its IPA, T-shirts, and other merchandise. The same slogan is now being used to promote Bud Light in some marketing videos. See them here.

According to Big Sky Brewing, Anheuser-Bush InBev knew, or should have known, that Big Sky owns the trademark on the slogan. Furthermore, the Missoula-based brewery asserts that AB’s use of the slogan is causing the company harm by linking its brand to Bud Light.

Big Sky’s legal filing states: “The aforementioned activities of Anheuser-Busch are likely to cause confusion or mistake, or to deceive consumers or potential consumers wishing to purchase Big Sky’s products.”

Rob McCarthy, Bud Light’s marketing vice president, issued a written statement to the Missoula Independent newspaper, asserting that the company did nothing wrong. “There is no trademark use of the phrase ‘Hold my beer and watch this,’ nor is there intent to create any association with Big Sky,” he says. “Countless other videos and jokes use the same or similar words as a punch line or hashtag.”

So, will the courts decide that Anheuser-Busch is right just because it can afford to be right? Or will justice prevail? Should you be able to own a trademark on a slogan? The fact is, yes you can own a trademark on a slogan. Great Divide Brewing owns a trademark on “Great minds drink alike.” How do I know that? Once upon a time, I was also using that slogan and Great Divide asked me to cease and desist. So I did. It was the right thing to do. Great Divide does in fact own the trademark on that slogan and I do not. No lawyers needed. Maybe Big Sky Brewing’s lawyers can use that as precedence.

Read the complete Missoula Independent story online here.