The family of conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly lost their appeal Monday to block the use of the Schlafly name by Saint Louis Brewery, LLC, which brews under the Schlafly name.
Founded by Phyllis Schlafly’s nephew Thomas Schlafly in 1989, Missouri’s largest independent craft brewery had started using the family name and the Schlafly logo in 1991. Since then, the brewery has grown to distribute in a dozen states and serve an estimated 74.8 million cans, bottles, and drafts from 2009-2014. Saint Louis Brewery applied for a trademark of the family name in 2011.
Phyllis Schlafly is well known as the founder of the conservative Eagle Forum. She has taken aggressive stances over the years against the Equal Rights Amendment, Communism, and abortion rights. She died in 2016 at age 92, but a trust in her name functioned as the plaintiff.
A Circuit Court judge denied the appeal, citing that trademarks of a family name can be achieved when a “secondary meaning” and “distinctiveness” is recognized through sales of a product. The family’s side led by Phyllis Schlafly’s son Thomas Schlafly, an orthopedic surgeon, claimed that its name is tarnished by the association with alcohol consumption.
In a statement by attorney Andrew Schlafly of New Jersey, who is another son of Phyllis: “It’s unusual for a company to try to trademark a prominent surname such as this. The law says words that are ‘primarily merely a surname’ should not be trademarked.” The family plans to appeal this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Circuit decision upholds a 2016 U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruling.
While this is a high-profile example worth millions of dollars, inter-family disputes over the usage of a name are a common trademark dispute. If someone has a concern, it is advised that he or she speaks with an attorney who handles trademark matters to determine if there is a legal course of action.