Trademark Bullying Works: Mooselick Brewing Co. Becomes Granite Roots Brewing Out Of Fear Of Moosehead Breweries
from the the-moose-is-loose dept
I will occasionally get a common question when discussing stories about trademark bullies: why do these bullies actually do this? The easy answer is, of course, because it works. And it works on many levels. For example, the primary targets in actual lawsuits can be bullied out of using names and terms for their businesses or brands, so it works on that level. But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Where being a trademark bully really works is when it makes lawsuits unnecessary, because other businesses and people are so fearful of the bully tactic.
To see that in practice, one need only look at the brewery formerly named Mooselick Brewing Co., which is now rebranding itself as Granite Roots Brewing without putting up a fight against, you guessed it, Moosehead Breweries.
Mooselick started selling beer in July 2015 and opened its tap room on Route 12 in Troy soon after with a name that honored their local heritage.
“We thought it was fun, interesting and it kind of paid homage to the moose,” Oliver Levick said Monday. “We thought it was one of the coolest of animals in New Hampshire, and that we could have fun and play with and have some moose themes.”
It wasn’t long before the lawyers for Moosehead Breweries came calling. Levick mentions in the article that he was shocked that trademarks could be so broad as to cover everything using anything moose-related in the alcohol industry. It’s a notion familiar to many, with the mind naturally recoiling at the idea that so broad a thing could be locked up by a singular player for a massive marketplace. The actual test for trademark, as you will know, is whether there is potential for confusion by consumers. As with many of the legal threats levied by Moosehead Breweries, that seems as though it would have been unlikely in this case.
Except we’ll never see that question adjudicated in court, because Mooselick chose to take on the substantial costs for rebranding itself instead.
“We didn’t have the resources for a long, drawn-out legal battle,” Levick said. So the owners notified Moosehead of a transition plan and worked on creating a new name and image for the brewery.
Levick and his friends Iodice and LoDulce had all grown up in New Hampshire and wanted to pay tribute to their roots and the brewery’s commitment to the state.
The warning shot by Moosehead Breweries was all it needed to fire — so entrenched is its reputation for trademark bullying and its willingness to engage in costly lawsuits. Startups understandably do the math on whether fighting the fight is more costly than simply rebranding. It’s unfortunate that what was once a consumer-protection mechanism has devolved into this kind of sanctioned bullying.