Visit craft breweries from Vermont to Minnesota to California and you’ll see framed newspaper clippings of legal battles with national brands. These proudly displayed stories chronicle the cease and desist letters, viral arguments, and bills for damages breweries attract with clever names and art that encroach on others’ intellectual property.
Why do craft breweries fail to recognize their reliance on others’ IP for press coverage as a fatal attraction? After all, their businesses rely on intellectual property—from their brewing processes to their branding—to turn a profit.
A New Industry
Craft beer as we know it has only been part of the American beverage landscape for a few decades. Breweries began opening in earnest in the 1990s. These small businesses evolved from the culture of homebrewing, which was legalized in 1978. This relatively young industry may still see itself as the little guy, too small for large businesses to rebuke for intellectual property theft.
In some ways, this mindset may still be accurate. If a brewery only planned one run of an attention-getting brew anyway, the effort to recover any damages may not be worth it for a corporate legal team. However, this approach is a risk that may not pay off.
A Carefree Attitude
Perhaps because of its place as a newcomer in the beverage industry, craft brewing has taken on an “avant-garde attitude.” One IP consultant likens the craft beer’s “guerilla-style” tactics to rock ‘n’ roll. This carefree approach to intellectual property leads brewers to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Brewers may even see their beer names and can art that bear similarities to iconic brands, songs, and characters as parody, rather than outright IP theft. This legal “gray area” could leave craft brewers feeling safer than they really are.
A Collaborative Nature
The craft beer industry, with its youth and laidback attitude, is collaborative. Breweries work on beers together, use guest artists to design labels, and name their beers based on social media polls. While this approach is commonplace in craft beer, it’s not the norm in other industries. Even brewers who have experienced the consequences of intellectual property disputes with other craft breweries may not fully grasp the severity of IP theft from a corporation.