Craft beer, an industry once known for its camaraderie, is getting bigger by the day—and apparently more litigious as well. Just two days after Lagunitas Brewing Company filed a trademark infringement suit against Sierra Nevada Brewing Company for purportedly stealing their IPA logo (a case that was yanked yesterday by owner Tony Magee after public backlash), another Bay Area beer icon, Anchor Brewing Company, has also tried and failed to sue another brewer for appropriating their name—even though the brewer has been using that moniker for 17 years, and Anchor executives were apparently aware of it.
According to the Connecticut Law Tribune, City Steam Brewery Cafe, a brewpub in Hartford, Connecticut, was sued by Anchor for violating their intellectual property. Anchor claims that it's had a federally registered mark for the term "Steam Beer" since 1934, and has used the trademark Anchor Steam since the '70s. However, the term "steam beer," which refers to a beer made by brewing lager yeasts at higher temperatures, wasn't originated by Anchor, and was used by dozens of brewers in the 1800s. Post-Prohibition, however, Anchor took hold of the name, and most brewers now refer to the style using the term "California common." As a result, its lawyers interpret the trademark as an exclusive right to use the term "steam" in a beer name, and they've sent dozens of cease-and-desists over the years, none of which have previously led to litigation. "Every once in a while, someone in the beer world will use one of Anchor's trademarks," says J. Wesley Kinnear of the Kinnear Law Firm, which represents Anchor. "We'll send them a note and usually it's resolved very quickly in a friendly way. In this case, it didn't happen."
In City Steam's view, Anchor is using its size (it's the 21st-largest craft brewer in the U.S.) to intimidate smaller brewers into name changes. According to City Steam's lawyer, Mario Ceste, the company has "gone around clubbing [other brewers using the name], and people have rolled over." What's more, City Steam argues that Anchor has long been aware of their beer's name, which they've had for nearly two decades, and an Anchor executive once even dined at the Hartford brewpub. It was only when City Steam began distributing their beer outside of Connecticut that Anchor decided to press the issue.
After reaching a settlement, City Steam has agreed to slightly alter its name to avoid any confusion; it'll now be known as Citysteam. (The two sides apparently made the deal back in September, but details only became public yesterday.) Ceste said the deal was a victory for his client: "Anchor's position has been over-reaching. Up to now, no one in the craft brew community would stand up to them," he told the Law Tribune. "We were not going to allow them to just come in and strip the company of its brand name after 17 years of operation."