Intellectual property rights are established to create legal protection so companies do not steal products or ideas. However, there are a growing number of cases where companies are engaging in playful back and forth using parody. This seems to be particularly popular among small craft breweries.
In-N-Out vs. In-N-Stout
The much-publicized spat between Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery and In-N-Out Burger was instigated when the former announced a limited edition In-N-Stout beer. The bottle’s label even featured the palm tree and iconic zigzag of the burger chain’s sign. The burger chain responded with a pun-filled cease and desist letter that seemed to cover all usual points. The brewery then posted the letter on Instagram and followed that with a video about not being “a cheap knockoff.”
Too close for comfort?
Famous for its high-alcohol barrel-aged beers, Oakland’s Temescal Brewing toasted its employees’ favorite non-beer beverage: LaCroix water. The brewery did a small batch of low-alcohol “Pamplemousse Sparkling Ale” for special release called La Fizz. The cans actually look a lot like the inspiration’s packaging of the grapefruit variety. Also a one off, La Fizz apparently did not merit a letter.
Well played sir!
These brewers have found that there is an upside to these little tips of the cup to others because customers also seem to enjoy the back and forth as well. Along with free word of mouth marketing, there is even coverage in newspapers, blogs like this and other outlets that provide cheap advertising for the small upstart.
It also enables the big company a chance to show that it has a sense of humor. Budweiser scored serious points when it sent a town crier dressed in medieval garb to Modist Brewing of Minneapolis with a cease and desist of the Dilly Dilly Mosiac Double IPA, which crossed swords with the popular Bud Light campaign. Just to show there were no hard feelings, Budweiser even threw in two Super Bowl tickets, which was played weeks later at the nearby U.S. Bank Stadium.
Trademarks are still serious business
One thing is for sure, the playful back and forth is cheaper than a court case. It is likely that these breweries could have gotten into legal trouble if they’d created an ongoing line of the beers. Moreover, while it is not talked about as often, brewers can be quite territorial about their beers’ names and have been known to a send a more serious worded letter to a fellow brewer with a name that too closely resembles their own brew. So even in the world of beer, there are still trademark lines not to be crossed. If a business feels that another has crossed the line, it is always advisable to check with an attorney with background in intellectual property and trademarks.