Slippery Slope of Brewery Trademark Disputes

The Ugliness Surrounding Trademarks

It seems the Strange Debacle was not enough proof of the sensitivity and power of social media. West Sixth Brewing and Magic Hat Brewing Co. are engaged in a trademark dispute that has quickly spilled over into the social stream.  Each brewing company has plenty of supporters and detractors, and many online users denounce both and think the whole subject is ridiculous. And in a way, they’re correct.  How did a trademark dispute end up as a social media firestorm?  What were the reasons for the lawsuit and facebook postings? What was the goal with these decisions? Did the still-ongoing dispute over “strange” not teach these breweries a lesson or two?

Now, it would be easy to jump the gun and seek someone to blame, and many are doing so. But this does not address the problem, which is complex. Even if the lawsuit is dropped, or the parties settle out of court, problems will remain.   Sure, the first problem is trademark protection/infringement. A business has a right to protect its label, brand and image. Adjudication can settle this, legally, but has no impact on facebook et al and public reputation, nor should it. Damage to both breweries will continue to accumulate, with most damage done to the larger of the two (Magic Hat) in public relations, and West Sixth in finances.

Then there is the problem of communication and relationship. The Craft Beer Industry is one of camaraderie and friendship. This sort of trademark dispute, more specifically the method of disputing, damages these aspects.  It is quite unlikely that, without help, Magic Hat and West Sixth (and their “allies”) will ever be on good speaking terms. A judge cannot make them “be nice”. Maybe they would have never been friends, or close acquaintances, or even friendly strangers, but now they have almost assured they will not be, and that is disappointing.

Ostensibly, the mistakes made were filing a lawsuit (which is public) and utilizing social media. Yet, these were symptoms of a bigger problem: dispute mismanagement. A common aspect of which is going to extremes to settle the issue; the best defense is a strong offense mantra. Unfortunately, following this stream of thought overlooks valuable, available, effective and affordable options.

Mediation and other conflict management services ought to be considered before lawyering up and unleashing online campaigns. To be sure, these services are still available with attorneys involved, it just becomes more complicated and decreases the parties’ control of the process. When a disagreement escalates beyond private, one-on-one, and personal discussion, the next step should be to contact a conflict management services provider.  Even if they cannot help for whatever reason, there is no harm done. The parties can go right ahead and do whatever they want, whether filing a suit or hitting facebook.  Nothing is lost, and at the very least judges tend to appreciate “good faith” attempts to find resolution outside of court.

The folks at West Sixth and Magic Hat still have options before going to court.  Whether or not they try these is unknown. Perhaps they themselves are unaware that such services are available.  That’s why we are here, to help in whatever way we can, even if that means referring parties to other providers. In the end, social media will not overturn legal trademarks, and lawsuits cannot sway public opinion.