28 Dec Red Yeti Brewing In The Middle Of Trademark Dispute With Great Divide Brewing Co.
I remember when I first started drinking craft beer and being amazed at all of the brewerybeer names and artwork on the bottles. One of the most memorable labels belonged to a beer brewed by Avery Brewing with Russian River Brewing called Collaboration not Litigation Ale. Both brewed a beer named Salvation and versus hiring lawyers and filing lawsuits they decided to combine the recipes and sell the beer to the public. Both craft breweries were owned by young entrepreneurs who understood, at that time, they needed to work together to be successful, and having fun was a bonus.
In 2006 the craft beer community was quite a bit smaller and breweries were still relying on each other a great deal to succeed. Today, the craft beer community has grown to the point where each brewery can focus on individual goals and success. This often means protecting intellectual properties such as beer names, logos, and anything that has become recognized as part of a particular brewery. Most people can remember a lawsuit over brand recognition involving two breweries. Personally, the most recent one I remember involved Lagunitas vs. Sierra Nevada over the branding of Hop Hunter IPA. Lagunitas claimed the font and design of Hop Hunter was too similar to their own IPA label. Eventually the lawsuit was dropped and, as of now, there is no additional information available to determine if there is confusion in the market.
The first to respond was head brewer and owner of Red Yeti Brewing, Paul Ronau. Red Yeti opened in early 2014 and found success with a solid menu and tap list. (I recommend ordering the tacos for lunch and make sure to get one of each.) Red Yeti brews and sells their product out of the Jeffersonville location and fills their vacant lines with guest taps that previously included Great Divide’s offerings. There is no distribution outside of the brew pub at this time and Paul will brew and sell under a different name whenif that time comes. Paul’s nickname is Red Yeti and he believed it was a fantastic name for the new place. He performed searches for Red Yeti looking into trademarks and copyrights but was unable to find anything to deter him from using the name.
The following August, Red Yeti received communication from Great Divide telling them that they were violating trademarks on the Yeti name and Walking Yeti logo. According to Paul, Red Yeti was told they needed to remove the logo from their branding. After that, there was a tentative agreement reached where Red Yeti would change their name to Red Foot for the brewing side of the business. Paul stated he also offered to change the name on the front of the building to The Red Yeti Restaurant and Brewpub, but because of the term Brewpub there was no agreement reached. At that point Paul decided he would run his business under the name The Red Yeti and move forward from there. When I followed up with Paul he had this to say:
- “The Red Yeti does not distribute their beer outside the pub nor does it carry GD [Great Divide] products (to their detriment). We never cross paths yet they continue to threaten us. When I asked the president of GD if the Yeti was hurting his business, he said it was. I have no idea how that’s possible.”
Brian Dunn opened Great Divide and began brewing in Denver, CO in 1994. Since then they have grown into one of the most recognized breweries in the United States. Great Divide has a large distribution footprint that spans our country, including Indiana. They are known for award winning beers as well as being one of the most environmentally aware breweries currently in business. Being a hop head, I was first introduced to Great Divide through drinking their Titan IPA. While I have had many of their beers my favorite is their Old Ruffian barley wine. It becomes available in February and the amount of hops in this winter style reminds you that spring is right around the corner. They also produce a line of imperial stouts called Yeti which includes the Walking Yeti logo as part of the branding. Yeti is a series of Imperial stouts starting with a base beer (Yeti Imperial Stout) which is available year round, and quarterly releases where three versions have been aged on oak and the third includes oatmeal and raisins. The branding of these beers are at the source of the current dispute.
- “We spend a lot of time and energy developing names and icons for our beers, and once we use them, we trademark those names and images. If we become aware of a conflict, we always try to work things out amicably and in most cases that’s the way it ends. If we don’t diligently monitor and enforce our trademarks, then we may lose those rights. It’s tough, we don’t like to make those phone calls or send those letters, but if you want to protect your trademarks then it’s something you have to do.”
This is in stark contrast to that first Collaboration not Litigation Ale, and it shows just how big the craft brewing business has grown since then. While researching this article, I read where Adam Avery was discussing his early collaboration with Russian River and he eluded the situation would most likely be different if it were to happen today. Intellectual properties can be very subjective and taking a chance on losing the rights to a name, logo, etc could cost the brewery money. Chances are we would never have been able to sample a collaboration beer between the two breweries and some other beer nerd would be writing this article about them.
Since I am not an expert in trademark law and I had two sides of the story, I wanted to verify a few facts for my general knowledge and this article. We are lucky to have a couple of contributors to Indiana On Tap that also work in Trademark/Copyright law. Corben Lee and Travis Stegemoller, with Gutwein Law, were very helpful and pointed me to a great resource that helped me out immensely.
My first question regarded the use dates of the logo and how they affect who has what rights to the Walking Yeti logo. What I discovered was that according to the information provided by both breweries, Great Divide may have the strongest claim to the rights of the name and logo based on their first date of use. Secondly, the fact that Red Yeti does not produce a beer with the name Yeti or distribute their beer with the Walking Yeti logo is subjective and only a court or agreement between the breweries can resolve that issue. If it were to be discussed in court it most likely would come down to a couple of factors; would consumers find these two products in the same market place and if so, will the products be confused by the consumer and how closely are the products related. The biggest issue would seem to be the Yeti and its pose. While they are similar there are definite differences, but is it enough of a difference to avoid confusion?
When I last contacted Red Yeti and Great Divide there was still no resolution to the situation regarding the trademark issues. Paul with Red Yeti stated that he had made last contact and was waiting on a reply. Just to be clear, there is no lawsuit at this time and both breweries are working through this issue via email and phone calls. In this era of the craft brewing business, breweries are protective of their intellectual properties by any legal means necessary. Breweries often risk taking a hit in public perception when they protect their intellectual properties, and this appears to be especially true when there is a major difference in the size of the two breweries. If you do not understand I suggest a Google search of Innovation Brewing and cross reference it with Bells Brewing. Read the comments below the articles and I believe you will understand my point. The craft beer market keeps growing and new breweries open every day. The names of beer and branding continue to be increasingly important to the individual breweries and I feel this will cause us to see a growing number of trademark/copyright issues in the media.
Keep drinking great beer and talking about it, I know I will.