For some time now we’ve discussed in a series of posts the trademark fallout that has hit the craft brewing industry. With the explosion of this industry throughout the world, the once-congenial attitude breweries had towards intellectual property concerns has slipped away, replaced by both aggression when it comes to protecting IP and the threat of aggressive action from those outside the industry, given the amount of money being made in brewing. It’s been sad to see and it has frankly led to some of the silliest IP disputes I’ve ever seen.
As in any other industry, however, the truly frustrating stories when it comes to trademark disputes in the brewing business involve those outside the industry initiating conflict where it doesn’t belong. The most recent example of this is Boss Brewing having to change the name of a couple of its beers after being bullied by Hugo Boss, the upscale clothier.
As reported by Wales Online, Boss Brewing, which was founded in 2014, received a cease and desist letter from high-end fashion retailer Hugo Boss after applying to trademark its brand.
According to records published by the Intellectual Property Office, two Boss Brewing trademarks were taken out in October 2018 in a process which usually costs around £300. However, the brewer was instead required to pay almost £10,000 in legal fees during a four-month battle.
Co-owner of the business, Sarah John, told Wales Online that Hugo Boss was “adamant they wanted to stop the name” from being trademarked. The company told John that it owned the Boss trademark in most of the world, but that it did not own rights to it in relation to alcohol.
Again, trademark law is typically designed to keep the public from being confused as to the source of a good or service. The opposition and cease and desist notice from Hugo Boss apparently views the public as being unable to distinguish a maker of beer and a maker of clothing. Where perhaps I could see Hugo Boss having some issue with any apparel merchandise the brewer might have with the “Boss” name — and even that would be a stretch — taking issue with the name of the brewery or its beers seems remarkably silly.
But trademark bullying works, especially when the bully has much more money than its victim.
A compromise was eventually reached, whereby Boss Brewing was required to change the name of two of its beers. Boss Black, a 5% ABV stout, has become Boss Brewing Black, and Boss Boss, a 7.4% ABV double IPA, is now Boss Bossy.
The brewer is also forbidden from selling its branded clothing, which include hats and t-shirts.
John added: “We’ve got pallet loads of Boss Black which we are going to have to go through and change the labels of, which will be of great expense and time for a small brewery. This has been a horrible experience, and so stressful. We have worked so hard to create all of this and what should have been a simple process ended up making us question whether everything was going to be OK going forward in the future and whether we were going to lose everything.”
And for what? To ensure the public isn’t confused with the famous Hugo Boss line of clothing and a tiny Welsh brewery? It’s enough to make one need a drink.
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