If you’ve been paying very close attention—I mean, “stalker-like” attention—you might have noticed that the Washington Beer Blog is the only blog in town that has not posted something about the recent trademark hullabaloo involving Black Raven Brewing and Franciscan Vineyards (Ravenswood).
We don’t want our readers to think that we don’t care. We do care. We don’t want our readers to think that we are happy about the increasingly litigious nature of our American society. We aren’t happy about it. We love Black Raven and they know it.
When something like this happens, people are quick to take it personally. Like someone just made a disparaging remark about a best friend’s wife. We love our local breweries and we don’t want anyone messing with them. As “regular people” it is hard not to feel like big companies with deep pockets are walking all over the Black Ravens, Georgetowns and Laughing Buddhas of the world. Maybe that is what has been happening here. It is hard not to see it that way.
Don’t shoot me for saying it, but people and businesses have the right to protect their intellectual property, copyrights and trademarks. I am glad that I have the right to protect mine. Personally, I think that what has happened is ridiculous. Magic Hat claims to own the number 9? Franciscan Vineyards claims to own the word raven? That other “Buddha” brewery doesn’t even sell beer in America. WTF? How can anyone claim ownership of such common words. It’s like someone claiming they own Beer Church. Oh wait…
Although I may think this is all a bunch of hogwash, I am not an attorney. Also, I recognize that I would be singing a different tune if someone opened a big, swill-producing winery in Woodinville and called it “Elysian Fields Vineyards” or “The Pike Winery.” To defend their winery, supporters of The Pike Winery might make the same arguments that we’re all making now.
Again, to be clear, I am not in favor of the ruling against Black Raven. Ravenswood wine is beneath me. My boycott actually has nothing to do with this trademark nonsense. I happen to prefer wine from smaller producers. That Happy Buddha company from New Zealand? I would make efforts to avoid their product if it was available in the western hemisphere. Sure, I may be pissed at Magic Hat but I’m resisting the urge to take it out on Pyramid because that really makes no sense. Magic Hat and Pyramid are both owned by the same company (Independent Brewers United Inc.) but operate as completely separate companies. In other words, this really has nothing at all to do with Pyramid.
It is a messy and depressing issue. Over the last couple days, while everyone has been venting their anger and tossing opinions around, I contacted a friend of mine who is an attorney with experience dealing in these kinds of trademark issues. I thought that perhaps her calmer, better-informed, impartial opinion might add something valuable to the conversation. She agreed to look at some stuff and tell me what she thinks so that I could share it with all of you.
Now I’m not even going to do that.
This whole thing is depressing and I think it is just time we get over it. While I am sad that someone took up arms against my friends in Redmond, I must remember that nobody died in this battle and Black Raven is still producing some wicked-good beer. They currently have no plans to change their name, but even if they did, the beer would still be great. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Still, let’s hope it never comes to that.
Here is the official statement from Black Raven Brewing, as published on their website, regarding the issue.
The Black Raven Brewing Company filed for a federal trademark for “Black Raven” in the trademark category class 32 (Beer) in 2007. In 2008, Ravenswood Winery (Franciscan Vineyards, Constellation Brands) filed an objection to our mark application in the Federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board court system. After two years of legal proceeding, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the application for “Black Raven” would violate the current registration for Ravenswood winery marks “Ravens, Ravenswood, Ragin’ Raven”. Therefore the application for “Black Raven” Brewing Company was denied.
Black Raven Brewing has the utmost respect for intellectual property and has never had the desire to mislead or confuse consumers. We also have no desire to build on the goodwill of another brand for our advancement or recognition. We feel that the mark and brand “Black Raven” as applied to a brewery will not interfere with Ravenswood’s intellectual property or consumers.
Black Raven respects the trademark legal process and is fully aware that we are not a registered trademark. Black Raven also respects Ravenswood’s right to object, even though we strongly disagree with the outcome.
Black Raven does not ask for nor support any boycott or negative action towards Franciscan, Ravenswood or Constellation Brands.
Black Raven will continue to produce world class ales of great distinction and character.