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Craft brewery business dispute could be first to go to trial

There are thousands of breweries, distilleries and wineries spread across the country, including some here in Maryland. According to an attorney for a small brewery called Innovation Brewing, all of them share a limited pool of names. It is not difficult to imagine that a business dispute can arise when two companies share similar names, but so far, any such disputes have been resolved short of going to trial. However, a recent claim by one craft brewery against another might actually go to trial.

A brewery named Bell's Brewery manufactured approximately 310,000 barrels of beer last year and distributes its products to 18 states. The company is claiming that its unregistered bumper sticker phrase "bottling innovation since 1985," along with the slogan "inspired brewing" could be confused with Innovation Brewing, a small start-up brewery. Bell's filed a complaint in federal court against Innovation regarding the smaller company's name.

The owners of Innovation, a company in North Carolina, say that the name was borne out of the creative way in which they assembled their brewing system since they did not have a lot of money with which to start the company. Now, legal fees are keeping them from being able to purchase equipment for the business. The company contends that Bell's bumper sticker phrase is not used as direct marketing and does not believe any confusion exists.

It could ultimately be up to a federal judge to determine the outcome of this business dispute if the parties are not able to come to an agreement on their own. Choosing a company name can be a challenge for some Maryland business owners. It may be worth the extra effort and expense to involve an attorney in the process to limit the possibility of a dispute arising. If a problem does arise, however, assistance should be enlisted to protect the company's interests.

Source: freep.com, "Bell's Brewery in tough trademark dispute with microbrewer", Tony Kiss, March 11, 2015

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