Not so fast Mr. Anheuser! A bird in the hand is worth two in the Busch, so to speak.
It was the Super Bowl. Everybody saw it. I’m talking about Anheuser-Busch’s infamous brewed the hard way commercial. The one that poked fun at fussy beer drinkers and their pumpkin-peach ale. If you pay attention to such things, you likely assumed it was the start of a new brewed the hard way campaign from Anheuser-Busch.
The commercial created quite a stir and, since advertising is A-B’s core competency (not brewing), the buzz was not lost on the brewing behemoth’s marketing executives. Any press is good press, after all.
A few days following the Super Bowl, and the airing of that commercial, Anheuser-Busch filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for “the intent to use” the phrase brewed the hard way. But you can chalk one up for the little guy because they got beat to the punch by a small brewery in Kansas City, Missouri.
Martin City Brewing Company sells a beer called Hard Way IPA. The Kansas City brewery had already filed an application very similar to Anheuser-Busch’s, but Martin City Brewing’s application wasn’t about an intention to use the term, but instead it was “actual use” application. They were already selling a beer with that name, after all. AND the application was already on file and under review when A-B submitted their application.
On May 13, 2015 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) suspended the examination of A-B’s trademark application pending the outcome of the “Hard Way IPA” application filed by Martin City Brewing. You can view the suspension letter here.
Excerpt: “The trademark examining attorney has searched the USPTO’s database of registered and pending marks and has found no similar registered marks that would bar registration under Trademark Act… However, a mark in a prior-filed pending application may present a bar to registration of applicant’s mark.”
In a statement to the Riverfront Times, Martin City Brewing Company said:
“We are excited to continue to offer our IPA, crafted the hard way. At MCBCo., we believe in the true passion that goes into every craft brewer’s products. While we have no particular issues with brewing at a macro scale, we do take issue with anyone or any corporation that tries to segment a part of the population which embodies the very nature of loving beer.
It seems counter-intuitive to segregate potential customers and pass judgment on their tastes. MCBCo. believes that every person has the right to love the beer of their choice, whether it be a sour ale, creamy stout, or even a light lager.”
We don’t know the ultimate outcome of this brewery trademark battle. We don’t even know if it will escalate into a battle, really. Regardless of how ridiculous these kinds of squabbles seem sometimes, the law itself is indifferent and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t care about the depth of your pockets.
I reiterate, we do not know the ultimate outcome of this one. Martin City Brewing did, in fact, wait until after the commercial aired to file their application, regardless of when they started selling the beer.
I suppose the lesson here is that if you have a brewery name, a product name, or any other intellectual property that you want to protect, then you need to make an effort to protect it. That’s what Martin City Brewing did. Thus far, that effort is working in their favor.