Trademarks And Craft Brewing: What Do Federal Courts Think Of Craft Beer Lovers?

An exploding craft beer industry has led to an uptick in lawsuits about beer names and labels.  Craft beer lovers do not always appreciate the lawsuits.  But what do the federal courts think about them?

When Brooklyn Brewery sued Block Ops Brewery over the name “BLACK OPS,” the court found that all else being equal, beer drinkers are more likely to be confused than other consumers!  “[I]n the case of alcoholic beverages . . . the likelihood of confusion is greater because drinks are frequently purchased at bars and clubs without the purchaser seeing any bottles or labels.”

Brooklyn Brewery’s brief encouraged this view.  It cited an earlier case discussing “‘chaotic’ and ‘impuls[ive]’” conditions in bars that would make confusion more likely.  Perhaps the reader may be able to relate.

The defendant, Block Ops Brewery, was more respectful toward the beer connoisseur.  It noted that Brooklyn’s Block Ops Russian Imperial Stout retailed at $29.99 (!!!) and came with a champagne-style cork.  Black Ops argued that “[a] craft beer consumer who is willing to pay over $29.00 a bottle for a premium Russian Imperial Stout . . . is not likely to mistake a blonde or an IPA produced by Black Ops Brewing for such a premium and specialized product . . . .”

But the court sided with Brooklyn Brewery, saying that “[high end] [b]eer and scotch are relatively low cost products, and the average consumer is not likely to seek to identify the true manufacturer of these products."

An interesting conclusion.  One would think that today’s craft beer consumers care deeply about the “true manufacturer” – and would definitely not consider $29.99 to be “low cost.” 

In any event, federal courts are not uniform on this issue.  The court in Bear Republic Brewing v. Central City Brewing was more complimentary toward craft beer lovers: “While it is true that beer purchasers are not likely to exercise a high degree of care in purchasing a relatively inexpensive item like beer, it seems likely that drinkers of craft-brewed beer may be generally more discerning drinkers than average beer drinkers. . . .”

So there you have it – at least one federal court has recognized the superiority and discerning character of craft beer drinkers!  Hopefully that goes down more smoothly.


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