Tag Archives: beer

Beer TM Today, Gone Tommorow: IPA Spat Goes Flat

“The room was humming harder, As the ceiling flew away, When we called out for another drink, The waiter brought a tray.” A Whiter Shade of Pale by Keith Reid, Gary Brooker (recorded by Procol Harum)

Surprise turned to Schadenfreude last week in trademark land when micro-brewer Lagunitas sued micro-legend Sierra Nevada for trademark infringement. The mark at issue? IPA–a common acronym for the style of beer called “India Pale Ale.” For years, Lagunitas’s IPA packages featured the letters IPA in large, highly stylized script. And Lagunitas saw red when Sierra Nevada changed the packages for its IPA to put those letters front and center:


Scores of brewers offer up their takes on this hoppy variety of pale ale. And many call it “IPA.” So the odds that any one company could snag “IPA” as a trademark would seem long at best–not the makings of a good bar bet. But those long odds did not deter Lagunitas. In its lawsuit, the company focused on style, not substance. According to Lagunitas’s complaint in Federal court, the letters IPA weren’t the issue. Sierra Nevada’s offense was copying the large-letter format and style of Lagunitas’s IPA logo.

But in this era where microbreweries are giving the beer establishment a run for its money and craft beer isn’t just for hipsters anymore, the nuances of trademark law sometimes can get lost on the blogosphere. Rather than stirring up sympathy, the lawsuit sparked a brew-haha of criticism, with Twitter and other social media sites overflowing with outrage over the idea that one brewer could monopolize IPA. So even though that wasn’t Lagunitas’s aim, the brewer responded to the backlash with contrition reminiscent of a morning-after dose of reality. In a Twitter post, owner Tony Magee wrote: “Today, I was seriously schooled . . . Tomorrow morning we’ll drop the infringement suit.[and] get back to answering other questions.”

So Lagunitaas learned a valuable lesson. When it comes to IP rights for IPA, size apparently doesn’t matter.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” Abraham Lincoln

Leave a comment

Filed under IP, trademarks, Uncategorized

A King Whose Reign Brewed An Industry

“I don’t lose no sleep at night ’cause things with you are going right/And I hardly ever sing beer drinking songs.”  “I Hardly Ever Sing Beer Drinking Songs” by Johnny Cash

Go into any bar or restaurant on DC’s trendy U Street Corridor or into any joint in new hot neighborhoods such as Bloomingdale or Logan Circle.  For every irony-drenched hipster sipping a PBR, you’ll find dozens of Congressional staffers, lobbyists, lawyers, NGO-sters, and interns pouring over copious beer lists brimming with exotic offerings from microbrews both local (like Northeast DC’s Chocolate City Brewery) to international, such a Belgian premium drafts that rival a good Bordeaux in price and drinking pleasure.   The beer selections at “hoppin'” places such as Birch and Barley are literally dizzying, especially with beers whose alcohol content approach 10%.

It’s easy to forget that just a generation ago, finding an India Pale Ale or English bitter was rarer than a blue moon.  Now of course, Blue Moon Brewery is one of the more ubiquitous standard bearers of the “craft beer” explosion.  And imports once prized for their scarcity and pedigrees, such as Stella Artois and Pilsner Urquel (not to be confused with Steve Urkel), have now gone mainstream, rubbing shoulders with Heineken, Corollas, and even Bud and Miller (apologies to Buddy Miller, the most soulful and compelling alt. country musician/producer/guitarist performing today.)

As chronicled in the Wall Street Journal,  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324482504578455131793135370.html, the father of this  beer revolution  was Henry King, a New Jersey native who came to Washington to shake up and wake up a stagnant beer industry.  He realized that the biggest impediment to harnessing the brewer’s art was a federal excise tax that imposed prohibitive costs on would-be small producers.  Leaning on industry, labor, and lawmakers alike, King shepherded legislation to slash the tax,  paving the way for the beer explosion we’re enjoying today.

Back in the day, your choices were Miller Time, Clydesdale Horses, or a Rocky Mountain high from Coors.  But thanks to Henry King, the true King of Beers, we now can enjoy flights of beers from microbreweries in every state of the union.  Full disclosure,  Henry King is the father of my dear friend Ottilie King Droggitis.  Ottilie has shared stories about her dad that certainly made him appear as a larger than life figure.  This story in the Wall Street Journal confirms all that, and more.

Next time you enjoy a cold one from a craft brewery, drink a toast to Henry King.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “He was a wise man who invented beer.”  Plato

Leave a comment

Filed under IP, trademarks, Uncategorized