What’s in a name? Well quite a bit if you’re a business that has spent many years and countless dollars trying to get people to remember it.
For instance, if I say Microsoft, you think about how much your computer sucks. If I say Nike, you think of little slave children making wonderful sporting goods. If I say Budweiser, you think of all the other beers you’d rather drink.
Well, the Oregon Beer Company, makers of Rogue Ales, wants to make sure you think about their rather mediocre beers whenever anyone says “Rogue,” and that means preventing others from muddying the waters by using the Rogue name.
It’s in this spirit that they’ve filed suit against the restaurant Rogue 24, a high-end eatery in Washington D.C. created by James Beard Award winning chef RJ Cooper.
You see, the Oregon Brewing Company is in the restaurant business as well, operating eleven West Coast brew pubs and restaurants that carry the Rogue name, and they hold the trademark on the word “Rogue” for use in restaurants, pubs and adult beverages.
They are simply protecting their turf, which they have a legal right to do. Actually it’s more than a right, it’s kind of an obligation. If you don’t go after people who are using your trademark, you weaken your claim to it by letting them get away with it.
If Rogue wants to keep the clear right to be the only “Rogue” restaurant, pub or adult beverage in town (and their products are sold across America, including in Washington D.C., so that “town” could be anywhere), then they have to go after places like Rogue 24, even if it’s kind of a dick move.
And, according to the Washington City Paper, they are definitely going for maximum dickage:
Oregon Brewing Company wants Rogue 24 to stop using the word “Rogue” and destroy all signs, menus, literature, and other materials branded with the mark. (No word on what that might mean for Cooper’s Rogue tattoo.) Oregon Brewing Company is also asking the restaurant to transfer the domain name rogue24.com, and for unspecified additional “injunctive relief.”
My gut tells me the Oregon Brewing Company will win this dispute fairly easily, and the two years Rogue 24 has spent building their brand will be undone by the lawyers.
That’s a shame. Not that the restaurant will have to find a new identity (that sucks, but the one they decided to use was already spoken for – it’s like someone building a house in your front yard and then feeling sorry for telling them to knock it down). It’s a shame that there were lawyers involved at all.
A brewer once told me a story of having to change the name of one of his new beers, because it just happened to contain a word found in a more established brew in a different part of the country. This trademark dispute wasn’t settled by lawyers in a courtroom, it was settled between two guys in an elevator at the Craft Brewers Conference.
I’d love it if the craft beer industry could continue to be a place where people can settle disputes in a civil manner without getting the lawyers involved, but that’s a silly dream.
As the industry grows into the billions of dollars and craft beer brands become household names, we’re going to see more and more legal bickering, even if it’s well founded.
Maybe the Brewers Association can create a beer court, where brewers who have a dispute sit down with judge Charlie Papazian and “relax and have a home brew” and sort everything out amicably.
That’s the kind of Bar Association I think America needs more of.