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Growing controversy over craft beer trademarks

|Naming beer is harder than you might think. Passionate brewers are going up against each other over something as simple as the name and image. With more than one new craft brewery opening up in the U.S. every day, that’s a lot of competition, and a battle over naming beer is emerging. David Begnaud reports.

More than one new craft brewery opens up in the United States every day. That is a lot of competition, and the battle is over more than just the beer itself.

Growing pains are emerging about the names and even the symbols attached to the different beers. CBS News’ David Begnaud reports on the barrels of problems it’s creating.

It’s become a real “brewhaha,” pitting passionate brewers against each other over something as simple as a name and an image. The thought may seem trivial, but trademarking has become a real beer sport.

Candace Moon calls herself the craft beer attorney. She put herself through law school bartending in San Diego, a city that has 90 craft breweries. But is there enough business for a beer lawyer?

“Oh my God there is more than enough business,” Moon said. “It’s kind of crazy.”

Moon advises some of the nearly 3,000 breweries across the country. Nearly half of her business involves trademark disputes.

“You are looking at a small industry that is becoming a big industry,” Moon said. “There’s so many people out there trying to choose names, trying to be creative and not knowing what gives them rights and what doesn’t.”

Basil Lee is a brewer in Queens, New York. Like most in the industry, the 35-year-old former architect started making beer at home. He and his partner, Kevin Stafford, named their brewery after a species of whale.

“Originally we named it Narwhale,” Lee said. “We changed it because we had a bit of a trademark dispute with Sierra Nevada.”

Sierra Nevada, the country’s second largest craft brewer, had requested but not yet received a trademark for a Narwhal Imperial Stout. A disappointed Lee didn’t have the money to challenge it.

“Our only recourse at the time was really to kind of take it out to the public,” Lee said. “We posted it on social media.”

They hoped it would put pressure on Sierra Nevada.

When the founder of the Northern California-based Lagunitas tried pressuring Sierra Nevada, he was publicly shamed on social media.

Tony Magee sued Sierra over an IPA label, alleging the bold letters in Sierra’s new Hop Hunter beer were “remarkably similar” to the letters in his best-selling IPA.

Immediately after the suit was filed, beer drinkers blasted him on Twitter, and he responded.

“Today I was seriously schooled & I heard you well…” Magee wrote.

He dropped the suit, calling it the worst day in 23 years of growing his brewery.

“I have great respect that Lagunitas recognized that the beer community spoke,” the founder of Dogfish Head brewery, Sam Calagione, said.

Calagione is also featured in the documentary film “Beer Wars.”

“Last year in 2014, we spent $230,000 just defending our trademarks,” Calagione said. “So we spend more money defending our trademarks in one year than we did to start our brewery.”

Beers like 90 Minute IPA and Punkin Ale have put Dogfish among the top dogs of the brewery business.

“English is a language that has half a million words, and yet there’s 3,200 breweries in America, 1.5 new commercial breweries opening every day,” Calagione said. “It’s inevitable that a brewery, whether out of naivety or being malicious, is going to step on another brewery’s identity. When it does happen, we need to handle it gracefully and not have the craft-on-craft crime that is occurring these days.”

Basil Lee estimates he would have spent $150,000 in legal fees battling Sierra Nevada. Instead, he let go of the social media campaign and changed the name of his brewery to Finback.

“I think we’re the little guy who learned to do better for sure,” Lee said. “I think it’s water under the bridge. I think that we like the name better, Finback. I think in the end it worked out fine for us.”

Attorney Candace Moon always recommends mediation to litigation for clients who’ve realized in a business brewed by passion, protecting your invention is priceless.

“It may not mean much now, but that’s why you want to trademark,” Moon said. “If and when you become a big brand, it has a lot more value.”

And, there is value in settling disputes the old fashioned way, over beers.

Avery and Russian River Brewing Company discovered they were both brewing a Salvation Ale, so they blended their brews, created a new beer and called it Collaboration Not Litigation.

That type of collaboration does not always happen. It is a real learning experience for brewers who begin at home and evolve into a big business.

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