14 July 2011

Stillwater Sues Stillwater for Trademark Infringement

Well.  This should be interesting to watch.
Stillwater Artisanal Ales LLC, a Baltimore-based brewery, sued beermaker Stillwater Brewing Co. of Stillwater, Minnesota, for trademark infringement.
Stillwater Brewing “knowingly and willfully” used an identical copy of the Maryland brewer’s trademark in connection with its sale of beer, Stillwater Artisanal Ales said in a complaint filed July 12 in federal court in Minnesota. Those actions are causing confusion in the marketplace and at beer competitions and festivals, according to the complaint.
Stillwater Artisanal Ales objected to the Minnesota company’s participation in the American Craft Beef Fest for “the specific purpose of competing against” the similarly named brewer in the national and international marketplace.
Zachary S. Morgan, one of the Minnesota brewery’s co- owners, said in an e-mail yesterday that his company is named Stillwater after the town where it is based. “The name denotes a geographic location in which the brewery is operated,” he said.
Stillwater Artisanal Ales asked the court to bar the Minnesota brewer’s use of the Stillwater mark, and for the destruction of all infringing promotional materials. It also seeks cancellation of the stillwaterbrewingco.com Internet domain name, and awards of profits related to the alleged infringement, money damages, attorney fees, litigation costs, and extra damages to punish the brewery for its actions.

The case is Stillwater Artisanal Ales LLC V. Stillwater Brewing Co LLC., 0:11-cv-01878-JRT, SER, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota.
It must be hard to be them.  I can perfectly well see how someone in Stillwater, Minnesota could set up a new brewery linked to and named for its hometown (Baltimore Brewing, anyone?  Frederick Brewing?  Pittsburgh Brewing?  Lancaster Brewing?  Selin's Grove Brewing?) and be oblivious to another business in the same field with the same name (although it's much harder to justify in 2010 than in, say, 1970, what with internet searches).  On the other hand, Strumke has a completely valid point: he (apparently) was there first with the trademark; he's already selling in Wisconsin and Ilinois and is poised to enter the Minnesota market momentarily..  Stillwater, Minnesota even has more than one microbrewery.

Stillwater Artisanal Ales debuted at Max's Belgian Fest on Feb. 13th, 2010; the Minnesota brewery opened for business in January 2011 and released their first beer about two months later.

Many here may remember how John Bates of the Baltimore Taphouse had to change the original name of his Highlandtown bar, Growlers, after a small (two to three locations) pub chain in the St. Louis, Mo. area--not the Growlers of Gaithersburg brewpub, mind you--sent a stern "cease and desist" letter.  Karma may well be a rhymes-with-witch, however; since then the original Missouri Growlers Pub closed in October 2010.

1 comment:

Volker @ Brewer's Art said...

One of the critical issues here is the trademark issue - failure to take adequate steps to protect your mark can lead to its loss. BTW, Brian has had enough press over the last 12 months (I have seen and heard things in a wide diversity of media) that I find it hard to believe that someone could have missed it. It should also be noted that the court action was preceded by a number of written requests to stop using his trademark, which were rebuffed - no one WANTS to go to court.

I try to do Beer Advocate and Rate Beer searches before settling in on a name. We have on one occasion named a beer and later discovered there was a brewery with the same name as our beer. Oops.