I really never expected to side with the mega brewers CUB. More so, I never expected to feel sorry for them. But it do – and it’s all the fault of craft brewer Thunder Road Brewing Company.
Right now TRB and CUB are in a legal tussle over old beer labels that, for the most part, haven’t been brewed for years and years. CUB own them and TRB wants them. TRB, who really seems like the bad guy here to me, reckons that because CUB aren’t making beers under these labels that others should be free to do so. CUB says no, because these beers are part of the company history and besides, they do make some of them in small runs.
I see TRB’s actions as completely outlandish. The labels in question are owned by CUB and have literally nothing to do with the history of TRB, which wasn’t even around when these beers stopped being made. So TRB’s trying to simply take someone else’s history and make money out of it is just awful.
Also, I would presume that, if the courts said TRB could use the labels that CUB would not also be forced to hand over the recipes for those beers. Which means the beers TRB would produce wouldn’t be historically true to the original; they’d just be a some beer inside a bottle with a retro label on it. So it would seem more about the buzz than the beer.
Some have suggested this exercise is more about publicity than anything else. Well, if that’s true it’s all bad publicity as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never tried a Thunder Road beer and this challenge of theirs has turned me off the brewery. So much so that I don’t want to try any of their beers.
If CUB keep their labels – and I hope they do – it’d be great if the case inspired them to make some of these beers again. Maybe even do six of them and release them in a limited edition mixed six-pack with a brief history of each beer printed on the six-pack case. I’d definitely buy one of those, and I reckon heaps of others would.
If TRB did the same thing, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
UPDATE: A few days after writing this post, Thunder Brewing posted a response in the comments section. In the interest of fairness (because I figured people may not click through to the comments and see it) I’ve included it here in its entirety.
If I’m going to have my say, it’s only fair that the other side gets their say too.
Hope you don’t mind us weighing in. One of the areas of our trademark case with CUB that has not been that well reported on is the use of geographical place names by CUB. If you check the trademark register, you will literally find scores of old marks that are no longer in production from breweries that have been shut down ages ago (even by their own admission) that use regional, town or suburb names all over the country. We feel strongly this banking up of trademarks prevents us, and others in the industry from using place names if we so chose for a beer that will actually get produced and distributed.
The trademark law in this country actually allows for a challenge of this kind under the “use it or loose it” clause that says that a trademark owner must actually, genuinely and commercially use a trademark or they can loose it. This clause is there to prevent large companies from just going out and trademarking everything to the detriment of other companies in any industry.
Luckily for us, the suburb we are based in (Brunswick) was not trademarked by CUB and we produce Brunswick Bitter. We’ve also just launched Collingwood Draught. We are interested in using place names, especially in greater Melbourne where we deliver fresh to tap beers. Richmond by the way is trademarked by CUB (brewery shut down in the 1960s, beer no longer produced) as is Ballart where we have roots from the university there. We’ve wanted to produce beers under the name Ballart and Richmond but no-go, the name is locked up because of beers that are no longer being produced. You get the idea.
In any event, we appreciate feedback and different points of view but the idea that we just want to go and grab someone else’s marks is not the case. We believe there is a legitimate case here where CUB’s banking of trademarks is an industry barrier. The trademark law in Australia also defines a public interesting in having what is known as a “clean” register – so businesses can use any marks or place names, etc. that are not being used – actually used – by others.
We also believe strongly that the growth of the independent beer industry will sometimes take some fighting to grow. Others may not agree, but from taps being locked up by the big oligopolies to trademarks, there is a lot that needs to be changed for craft and independent brewers to continue to grow in Australia.
By the way, you’re most welcome to come by the brewery any time for a chat about all this and a tasting session with some of our beers. Cheers.”