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Getting serious about funny beer trademarks

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

There's something about craft beer that seems to encourage unusual names. Who would drink a Pabst or Budweiser when there are such products available as Buttface Amber Ale? Or "I'll have what the gentleman on the floor is having - Polygamy Porter." From Palo Alto, we have Hoppy Ending Pale Ale.

For whatever reason, the moose gets a lot of play on labels. There's Moose Drool brown ale out of Montana. And on the other side of the country in Vermont, there's Hop'N Moose Brewing Company in Rutland - though a trademark challenge could bring an end to that name. The company looking to remove it from bar walls and liquor stores is the largest Canadian-owned brewer - Moosehead Breweries.

Moosehead is mounting a trade infringement suit against the Vermont facility. It says the smaller competitor's name and logo are too similar to its own name and logo registered trademark such that consumers could become confused - hurting Moosehead's earnings and reputation.

Whether there's a real threat of that or not is likely to be a key issue in court. Moosehead distributes its product in 17 countries. Hop'N Moose reportedly has only its Rutland brewery and distributes to 15 area stores. Moosehead reportedly saw revenue of about $260 million last year. Hop'N head, we assume, did not. It is worth noting, though, that Moosehead has successfully defended its mark previously.

For now, the owner of Hop'N Moose says he hasn't seen the suit and doesn't have an attorney. He indicates he's in discussions with Moosehead, and hopes he won't have to change his logo. He says some lawyer friends with whom he has spoken say the whole case is ridiculous, but he says "trademark law is a funny area."

It will be interesting to see whether the Moosehead case has legs.

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