Canadian Brewery Changes Name Of Brew Due To Peanut Butter Company Bully That Doesn't Ship In Canada
from the drunk-or-nuts? dept
We’ve been talking about the trademark crisis facing the craft brewing industry for some time. To recap, an industry explosion coupled with the habit of that industry to come up with creative and referential names for its products has collided with trademark attacks coming both from within and outside of the industry. The industry, which once had a quite permissive and fraternal approach to intellectual property, has since become corporatized. New entrants to the market, therefore, face challenges with how to name their craft beers without facing legal threats.
This is where it’s worth repeating that trademark law is chiefly designed to keep the public from being confused as to the source of affiliations of a good or service. In other words, the brand name of a product shouldn’t fool the public into thinking it came from somewhere it did not. That reality makes it quite frustrating to see Off Track Brewing agree to change the name of one of its signature brews due to threats issued by a peanut butter brand.
When the guys behind Off Track Brewing came up with a stout beer, using real peanut butter as the key ingredient, they needed a name.
“We were brainstorming one day, and Jon just said, ‘You know what, Damn Skippy, it’s just jumping out to me, it’d be a really good name,'” said Allan MacKay of Off Track Brewing in Bedford, N.S.
You already know what happened. Damn Skippy jumped in popularity, leading some to comment on the brew on social media. There, whatever legal team the Skippy peanut butter people had contracted with took notice and fired off a cease and desist notice to Off Track. It never got to the litigation level, as Off Track agreed to change the name of the brew. Normally, this is where our post would point out that the beer-buying public is certainly not going to confuse a creatively named peanut butter stout beer as having anything to do with Skippy brands, not to mention that the two products are in wildly different market arenas. All of which ought to have been sufficient to push back on the C&D and even for Off Track to have its day in court, if it wished.
But even if you don’t agree with my assessment above, exactly how much potential confusion in the buying public could there be when that same Canadian public can’t even buy Skippy peanut butter?
Even though Skippy peanut butter was discontinued in Canada two years ago — months before the brewery opened — the owners decided to give in after consulting their lawyer.
“We’re gonna switch it up, so it’s not a big loss,” said MacKay. “The beer stays the same, which is good.”
Part of the requirement to hold a valid trademark is that it be in use in the marketplace for commercial purposes. The Skippy people appear to very much be not using it in Canadian commerce. How, therefore, could there be any potential for customer confusion? And why, for the love of all that is peanut-buttery, did Skippy undertake this bullying to begin with?