Got Beer? Make Sure It’s Your Own

Brewers, be careful when picking a name for your beer. You wouldn’t expect craft brewers to be a litigious bunch, but believe it or not, there’s a lot of suing going on, and it’s been happening for years.

Not only do craft breweries have to protect themselves from legal Armageddon by the likes of AB-Inbev, but even the small champions of craft beer have been dishing out the “cease leg-humper copyand desist” orders a little too often lately. Thirsty Dog took issue with a brewery called Sleepy Dog over a beer called “Leghumper,” which is at least understandable as Thirsty Dog has an “Old Leghumper” porter. There were even similarities in label art, but there are, at last count, 4,000 breweries with “dog” in the name. This was bound to happen eventually.

And considering the number of different names using a play on the word “hops (eg, Hoptimus Prime, Hoptical Illusion), it’s only a matter of time before people are using the same name, what with new breweries opening with the frequency of Starbucks in the ’90s.

Rogue has been dishing out the lawyer fees, going after Rogue Harbor brewing, Gone Rogue Pub and others. Look out, Rogue Island.

masons hipster ipa10 Barrel, part of the AB-Inbev empire since 2014, recently sent a cease and desist to Mason’s Brewing in Oregon demanding they change the name of “Hipster Apocalypse” because they make a beer called “Apocalypse IPA,” despite the fact that they have different labels.

Shipyard sued Shiphead. Lagunitas fired across the bow of Sierra Nevada a few years ago over an issue with label fonts. Otter Creek sued Oregon Brewing for the word “shed.”

This is on top of problems you might have even in just referencing pop culture. We all know what happened to the Imperial Stout Trooper when Lucasfilm heard about something that didn’t bring them money, and now the estate of Thelonious Monk is suing North Coast Brewing over their homage beer “Brother Thelonious.”

Before you cast any judgment, remember, a lot of these breweries had to take their lumps from the big boys to survive. Dogfish Head famously received cease and desist orders from Anheuser-Busch almost as often as they received their electric bill.

But at a certain point, it does start to raise questions as to how far is too far when protecting your trademark and brand. What real threat is there in the sharing of a single word? Who owns the trademark on the word “hop,” or the rights to certain style names? Could someone claim ownership? Would AB-Inbev try to? Disney tried to claim ownership of the word “Princess” a few years back, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some marketing troll made that pitch to legal.

Odds are that any name you come up with is going to be disputed. Sometimes these cases can be worked out amicably, with breweries agreeing to share names as long as there are boundaries like different territories or starkly different labels.

So maybe nothing is safe, in which case, my Public Domain Brewery will premier its “No-Logo-Lager” in November, and-

Hey! Look at that, I’m already being sued.

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