Monday, August 30, 2010

Georgetown Brewing & trademark law

  Down on Seattle's south side, where SODO blends into Georgetown, Dawson Ave. angles into a dogleg called Denver Ave.  That's where Georgetown Brewing operates a production brewery, making their flagship Manny's Pale Ale and a few other beers for the keg markets. Their business model is very similar to Mac & Jack's. They fill growlers for $7 plus tax and also fill kegs of various sizes. They also stick with a few beers: Roger's Pilsner, Chopper Red (from their notes: "clarified with Irish moss, added to the kettle to remove haze before fermentation"), Lucille IPA, and what is now called Georgetown Porter.  Therein hangs a tale.
    They had been marketing this nice rich porter as "9-pound Hammer".  As reported in Northwest Brewing News, they were sued in federal court by Magic Hat Brewing of Burlington, Vermont, for trademark infringement on one of their beers back east, called No. 9.  Now, I had been in Magic Hat, took their brewery tour in 2006, and learned that a lot of their brand names came from obscure rock & roll references. They make one called Circus Boy, for example, a reference to kid in a 50's sitcom who grew up to be the drummer for the Monkees. So, No. 9 is clearly a reference to "Revolution 9" on the Beatles' White Album.  One would assume the Beatles' copyrights are still intact, so did Magic Hat get a license from them to borrow the phrase for their beer?  What if someone made a beer named after "Love Potion No. Nine", a rock standard written well before the Beatles' White Album?  How can a number become a trademark? Does Seven-Up own the number 7?
 And how could consumers possibly be confused? Georgetown's consumers are all drinking on-premise in Washington State, 3,000 miles from Vermont. Granted, Magic bought Pyramid in 2008 and could conceivably start producing Magic Hat beers up on First Ave. S at Pyramid's plant.  Were they to do so, how could anyone mistake a porter called 9-lb. for a pale ale called No. 9?  The thing about litigation is that even a complaint devoid of merit can cost a lot of money in lawyers' fees to get it dismissed. I'm not surprised that the folks at Georgetown just said oh, the hell with this nonsense, we'll just change our name.

(Visited 8/28/10)

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