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Sunday, 30 October 2016 15:58

Steeple skirmish? SW Mich. brewery locked in trademark dispute with Pittsburgh company

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NEW BUFFALO — A trademark dispute between two craft brewers has turned into a holy war of sorts. 

Beer Church Brewing Co. in New Buffalo had the trademark application for its name opposed by Pittsburgh-based The Church Brew Works, according to documents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

Attorneys on both sides of the dispute are currently working to reach a settlement, Beer Church Brewing co-owner John Lustina told MiBiz, adding that the Southwest Michigan company could not comment further on the matter. Representatives from The Church Brew Works did not respond to a request for comment at the time this story went to press. 

The point of contention likely stems from the use of “church,” since variations of the words “beer” and “brewing” are accepted as generic terms for breweries under U.S. trademark law, said Joe Infante, an attorney who heads the craft beverage regulation team at Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PLC in Grand Rapids.

There are several other instances of craft brewers using “church” in their names, including Corona, Calif.-based Stone Church Brewing, Orlando, Fla.-based Castle Church Brewing and Wilsonville, Ore.-based Old Church Brewery. None of the three breweries have filed for federal trademark protection on their names. 

Infante predicts that Beer Church Brewing and The Church Brew Works will reach some type of agreement outside of court, especially given that both are licensed as brewpubs and cannot distribute or sell their products outside of their respective states. 

Ultimately, the trademark dispute marks another example of how crucial it is for new brewers to perform a thorough search of their intended name before launching their businesses and filing for trademark protection, Infante said. 

“There are so few names out there that you really need to do your due diligence on the front end,” Infante said. “Before you even call a lawyer, Google every permutation of the name that you want and don’t just search beer. You have to search wine, spirits and even pop.”

Beer Church Brewing is not alone in West Michigan in working through trademark disputes.

Early this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security filed an opposition to Grand Haven-based Grand Armory Brewing Co.’s attempt to trademark the phrase “Coast Guard City Pale Ale,” as MiBiz previously reported. Federal law limits the commercial use of the Coast Guard name, and the agency alleged the brewery’s use of the name seeks to create an “implied relationship between the product and the U.S. Coast Guard.”

In August 2015, Muskegon-based Pigeon Hill Brewing fielded an opposition from pop group LMFAO for its brand of breakfast stout that shares the same name. In Pigeon Hill’s case, LMFAO stands for “let me fetch an oatmeal stout.” The two parties came to an agreement the following month that allowed the brewery to continue using the name.

While many trademark disputes remain quiet, Bell’s Brewing Inc. sparked a social media firestorm in early 2015 when reports publicized a trademark opposition the Southwest Michigan company filed in the prior year against Innovation Brewing of Sylva, N.C.

The Kalamazoo-based brewer alleged Innovation Brewing’s name could damage its slogan “bottling innovation since 1985.” 

More than two years on, the dispute has not come to a resolution, the result of several delays in the proceedings. 

Bell’s Brewery recently concluded its trial period at the end of August. Innovation Brewing’s trial period was set to end Oct. 26. Bell’s will then have from Nov. 10 to Dec. 10 to issue a rebuttal. 

“We are proceeding (now) as scheduled,” founder Larry Bell told MiBiz. “Some of the trademark issues go very slow. There’s been a couple of suspensions of proceedings.” 

Read 3709 times Last modified on Monday, 31 October 2016 12:43

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