Follow Up – Yesterday's Trademark Firestorm

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The most important news I have today is that the issue has apparently been laid to rest. Yesterday’s post about a trademark issue between Coronado Brewing and Elysian Brewing attracted a lot of attention. I knew that it would and I am not apologizing for that. I just want to be clear. I know this kind of trademark issue spurs a lot of angst in people around Seattle. I admit that I took advantage of my audience’s passion. I saw the story on BeerPulse and realized that someone in the Seattle blogosphere would be the first to jump on it. For both selfish and altruistic reasons, I wanted it to be me. That’s not an apology, it’s just the truth.

Amongst the many comments left on yesterday’s post, there is one that I am compelled to share. Ron Chapman, one of the founders of Coronado Brewing, left the following comment:

Coronado Brewing just became aware of a website by an attorney critiquing a matter between Coronado and Elysian Brewing. The attorney’s commentary leaves a misperception of the matter and misrepresents Coronado’s statements. (Go figure.) Coronado never said that Elysian’s beer is a “knock off” or inferior to Coronado’s fine brews. The language that the attorney is spinning is formal language required for a trademark dispute.

Coronado and Elysian very quickly engaged in discussions and appear to have resolved this matter to both parties’ satisfaction. In fact, Coronado and Elysian may explore cooperative projects with one another.  Coronado and Elysian care about the craft brewing industry and both care about the public’s ability to identify a craft beer with its brewer through its mark.

Coronado encourages you to try both brewers’ products.

Ron Chapman’s comment is perhaps the most important thing that was said. More important than anything I said in the original post and more important than any of the other comments.

I want to be clear: in yesterday’s post I did not mean to accuse Coronado Brewing of lacking integrity. I took issue with the language. As Mr. Chapman says, it is the kind of legalese required for such matters. Required or not, I hate that language. I’m betting Mr. Chapman hates it too. I very much prefer the language that he used when leaving his comment.

On the blog and on Facebook many people left comments badmouthing and otherwise disparaging Coronado Brewing. Personally, I think that was unfortunate. In the original post, I tried to make it clear that I took issue with the language apparently used by Coronado’s attorneys. I did not question Coronado’s character. People left comments that did question Coronado’s character and that is unfortunate.

Maybe I am guilty of walking into a theater and yelling, “Fire!” Ya, I probably am. Sorry about that one. I should have seen it coming. And that is an apology.

In a weird way, it is kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. It ticked me off, in an admittedly irrational way, that the first brewery seemed to say something disparaging about the second brewery, and then everyone started to say disparaging things about the first brewery. Apparently I started a firestorm of hypocrisy. Not my intention.

This is a hair trigger issue for people around Seattle who have watched a few different local breweries “get burned” by trademark issues. This will not be the last time it comes up. Other local breweries will face these kinds of issues. Some of our local breweries will instigate trademark infringement lawsuits against other breweries. And when they do, their lawyers will probably use the same kind of vicious language. It’s inevitable. It’s business. When it happens, we all just need to step back and take a deep breath.

I don’t always like it, but I realize that the beer business is composed of equal parts beer and business. This is the way the business world works. From now on, when these kinds of issues come up, I’m going to consider a few important points before I go half-cocked crazy again:

  • Like it or not, people have the right to hold trademarks. Like it or not, people who hold trademarks must protect and defend them. If they don’t defend a mark, they will lose it.
  • Maybe you think it is stupid that people can hold trademarks involving words like raven, solstice, Buddha, and idiot. Whatever you think, that’s the way it works. The holders of such trademarks did not make up the rules.
  • We live in a country where people have the right to protect their brands and their intellectual property. As a writer, I am pretty damn happy about that fact. On occasion, people rip off my content and post it on their own websites without asking permission or giving me any credit. Would you not afford me the right to go after those rat bastards?
  • And finally, don’t take it personally. This is business.

Truth is, these kinds of issues might be a bit too complex and, honestly, a bit too important for this forum. After all, the Washington Beer Blog does not aim to be divisive. We just want to share the love. Maybe the blog doesn’t get as many comments or as much attention when we just talk about the “beer” part of the beer business, but that’s what I like to do.

I will continue to use this blog to inform the public about the world of craft beer, but will be a bit more careful about hurting people and businesses that probably don’t deserve to be hurt. Although it really wasn’t my intention, I can understand how Coronado Brewing interpreted what I said (and especially what all the comments said) as an attack on their integrity. I sincerely apologize for that.

Next time I’m in San Diego, I’m going to stop by Coronado Brewing and have a couple beers.

 

14 Responses to Follow Up – Yesterday's Trademark Firestorm
  1. KeefN
    July 12, 2012 | 12:28 pm

    It’s really a case of damned if you do take issue with the lawsuit, and damned if you don’t and passively watch while one of our own gets attacked by a bunch of attorneys making a buck. So I think you should still be applauded for showing a strong opinion which reflects many of us in WA just simply trying to enjoy a good local pint. And when we talk about Elysian brewing, it’s a very very good quality pint every time.

    I’m hoping that any kind of media attention helps drive the breweries to indeed work cooperatively. That’s how to move forward maturely and embrace cross state relationships. That is for the betterment of everyone – the breweries themselves and of course the consumer (who gets special edition beers).

    Let’s hope Cascade does indeed honor their newest statements. Because we do love our Elysian here in Seattle. Very much.

    Thanks Kendall!

  2. Dirk
    July 12, 2012 | 1:19 pm

    I take issue with the fact that Coronado is taking legal action for use of the word “idiot” in a beer name. Whatever legalese is used to spell that out, let’s be clear that the /action/ is what I find offensive.

    So Coronado files a trademark infringement suit. It contains the legalese “knock off,” which doesn’t represent Mr. Chapman’s actual opinion of Elysian. However, the suit was filed because it is Mr. Chapman’s opinion that Elysian’s idiot-themed IPA will confuse consumers.

    Mr. Chapman has a lot of options if he legitimately believes that (a belief I do not hold). He could call Elysian and talk through the case. He did not do that, instead he filed a lawsuit. And then he posted a polite response that says “yeah, we filed a lawsuit but we respect Elysian.”

    To Mr. Chapman’s credit, he now seems to realize he can have a rational discussion with Elysian over the issue without lawyers. And for that I give him full credit.

    Now continue with your great beer blog and keep us informed Kendall!

  3. Beer Monger
    July 12, 2012 | 1:30 pm

    It’s nice that it’s been settled – but Coronado DID file the lawsuit in the first place. And that’s the action that annoyed most – including me.
    -
    Now they’re trying to ‘backpedal’ their way out of the bad image it gave them & blame it on the lawyer – that THEY hired to sue with.
    -
    Again – nice that it’s settled, but they could have/should have handled this SO much better.

  4. Dikla Tuchman
    July 12, 2012 | 2:01 pm

    Definitely in agreement with Michael.

  5. Mr Jonathan Rowe
    July 12, 2012 | 2:21 pm

    Kendall,

    I hate to see you apologizing for doing your job. Without your post, I would have not known about the issue, nor learned anything from it about such legal wranglings.

    There are at least 3 other breweries using the word “idiot” in their beer names, and I would assume that Coronado has filed suit against them as well. And I pose a question: Where does it end? I know a local cidery had to change their name because a restaurant in Chicago sued them over it, and because of just one word.

    So what happens? The companies large enough to wage legal battles get to take every word? It has to stop somewhere right?

  6. Josh
    July 12, 2012 | 3:40 pm

    Bravo Mr. Jones! Way too much Seattle angst going on yesterday without all the facts being laid on the table. Plus I tend to “defend” my hometown breweries first. Craft brewers are all in this together. Let’s all have a big beer hug now…Cheers!

  7. blackhook
    July 12, 2012 | 5:22 pm

    Ron Chapman’s response left out the most important thing in my mind: i.e., why did Coronado pursue this ill-considered action in the first place? Genuine copyright violations are one thing, but this action by Coronado, allegedly to protect their brand, seems frivolous & just plain goofy.

    Other craft breweries should consider the bad faith that actions like Coronado’s generate, and with it the potential loss of business.

  8. Christine
    July 12, 2012 | 5:27 pm

    I wouldn’t be so quick to apologize to Coronado. According to Beepulse.com’s follow up article, it sounds like Coronado bullied Elsyian into changing its beer name through this lawsuit, and their collaboration discussion was apparently one-sided. Here’s the article: http://beerpulse.com/2012/07/elysian-co-founder-says-he-will-change-beer-name-after-coronados-idiot-lawsuit/

  9. ron
    July 12, 2012 | 5:56 pm

    Kendall…it appears that your back pedaling is pressure from your sponsors., orat least your attempt out keep what you have. Stay true to your word. You stated the facts..leave it be.

  10. 66jzmstr
    July 12, 2012 | 8:08 pm

    Beer Monger said it best.

  11. Rebecca C.
    July 12, 2012 | 8:26 pm

    Lawyers only file lawsuits when their clients direct them to. Lawyers are agents of, and fiduciaries for, their clients. A complaint in a lawsuit is supposed to be backed by KNOWLEDGE (or at minimum, a good faith belief) by BOTH the lawyer AND the client that what is alleged — every word — is actually true. If it’s not true, if the business won’t stand behind every word, then don’t argue to me that the wording was “required”; the thing to do in that case is to NOT FILE THE LAWSUIT. I totally do NOT accept any person or company hiding behind their lawyer to avoid censure for their own decisions about how to do business.

    Craft breweries are small businesses. The last thing they need to be worrying about are legal fees defending against ill-conceived lawsuits. Protecting the name of the brewery itself is something I totally understand. But filing lawsuits over the names of INDIVIDUAL BEERS? Whoever made that decision — and the decision to file a lawsuit is made by the company, not the lawyer — won’t get any of my beer money.

  12. Kevin Smith
    July 13, 2012 | 6:42 am

    The apology, is, at best, suspect. It is merely spin. As Rebecca noted, lawyers don’t file without the approval and direction of those who hire them. Beyond that, anything – ANYTHING – written on behalf of a business with an owner’s blessing might as well be the owner’s words – whether he read them or not before they went out. The “inferior” statement is his responsibility, whether he wants to own it or not. His company, or agents of his company said it. If that’s not what they meant, then there were plenty of other legalese ways to say “this isn’t our product, and we don’t want our customers to be fooled into buying it,” without outright saying it was inferior. And if this sort of thing is an issue, he should be approving every word his lawyer files on his behalf. The bottom line, however, is that it’s a ridiculous lawsuit – it’s tantamount to Flying Dog suing Laughing Dog because they think someone might confuse the two due to the fact that “Dog” is in both names. If I were a regular customer of CBC, I would be insulted by their insinuation that I was too stupid to see Elysian printed in large letters across their label, and too stupid to note that the label designs look radically different.

  13. Paul
    July 13, 2012 | 7:25 am

    I agree with Kendall’s sentiment that this will not be the last time we see good intended legal challenges.
    Right or not, the issue is more with with the overall Trademark, Copyright, and even Patent process; in the United States.

    Either to ‘protect’ intellectual property or not, the whole issue sucks since Elysian & Coronado are members of the Brewer’s Association.

    Thanks for picking up this news and running with it.

    Cheers

  14. Kendall Jones
    July 13, 2012 | 9:02 am

    Ron, thank you. You gave my wife a good laugh with the “pressure from your sponsors” comment. In addition to lots of comments, lots of traffic because of my ranting. My sponsors would probably like it if I started this kind of fire more often. I understand your sentiment, but rest assured…. no pressure from ANYONE to say the things I’ve said.