We all know that business can be a dirty dangerous place, but nevertheless it’s always surprising when it hits close to home. This weekend the Oasis Texas Brewing Company posted a rebuttal against what I can only call a smear campaign started by the New Belgium Brewing Company, you may know these guys from beers such as the Ranger IPA and Fat Tire.
For those who don’t know the story, a new brewery started in Austin just a year ago at the Oasis. They launched with just a small selection of beers crafted by two of Austin’s most notable 2nd brewers (from 512 and Live Oak). So it’s not too surprising that one of their earliest (and one of my favorite) beers, the London Homesick, captured a Gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival and a little later they claimed a gold medal for their beer, Slow Ride, from the Austin Beer Guide for best new beer.w
This kind of acclaim is unusual to say the least for a new brewery, so a lot of people, myself included, were excited to see more of what this newborn company had to offer in the Austin Craft beer space.
Enter New Belgium. A brewery whose beers, specifically the Ranger IPA, I have enjoyed on a regular basis. So I was pretty shocked when I heard that not only was New Belgium Suing the Oasis Texas Brewing Company for trademark infringement, but they were suing them for the use of the name Slow Ride; A beer I knew had been around for a little while, and which after investigation had been promoted before New Belgium applied for the trademark.
Lets look at the facts here:
- Slow Ride was already in production and being distributed by OTXBC in May, before New Belgium even applied for a trademark
- New Belgium is saying they have tried to reach an amicable solution, their ‘amicable’ solution comes from either:
- OTXBC selling their Slow Ride brand at a fraction of it’s value
- OTXBC allowing New Belgium to enter the Texas market with a beer of the same name
- OTXBC on the other hand did seem to offer some pretty amicable solutions, including offering to let New Belgium distribute their beer outside of their market with the beer of the same name
- Whilst Oasis kept quite about this up until recently, New Belgium has gone on the offensive with their media
- New Belgium claims to have done an exhaustive trademark search before deciding on the name Slow Ride, while it’s understandable they can’t search every brewery in the world, an exhaustive search does not mean a complete search. It’s would also be interesting to know if they simply did a search of the trademark database, or if they even looked at other beers being sold. For the record, the OTXBC brand existed but had not been trademarked, the NB argument is that since it was not a trademark they should be able to trademark it and stop OTXBC from selling their beer under that name. Fortunately, that’s not how the law works.
This kind of Trademark battle is all too common in the legal space, and unfortunately the results often come down to money. New Belgium is a $200 million dollar company, the local Oasis Texas Brewery is at the moment just a start-up, albeit one with some already impressive credentials behind it. This may just have been a case of “missing the boat” from New Belgium, but their response to save a few dollars on re-branding is coming at the cost of their image within the beer community.
What’s really surprising is that New Belgium, a company that has always publicly pushed their love of craft brewing and the industry, has attempted to take the brand name of an already established small scale local brewery. Moves such as this in the relatively small beer aficionado community have nearly unanimously spelled publicity disaster for the large aggressor, and most of those have not come from companies that claim to be a loving part of the craft brewing community.
They may have filed the Trademark first – but Oasis beat even that with actual production and release of their beer.
So – Goodbye Ranger – no more shall your sweet tang hit my taste buds, I cannot support a company that has made this kind of move against a smaller promising brewery. I’m going to keep buying Oasis beers, not because of their name, but because their founders are integral members of the Austin brewing community who not only created, branded and released the Slow Ride first, but are showing the brass to stand up against an all too common attack by a larger aggressor.
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