Are you a Mallinsons or a Mouse?

Posted on May 18, 2012

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In the latest round of David v Goliath arguments in the brewing world Ab-InBev are alleged to have threatened to sue Huddersfield based brewery, Mallinsons, for trademark infringement after they have brewed a single hop beer called Stella.

Mallinsons is a brewery with a story that excites me a lot. No one tell New Zealand but it is run by Brewsters Tara Mallinson and Elaine Yendall who were brave enough and passionate enough to give up a career in teaching (and the safety of a final salary pension) to pursue a passion for beer and start up their own brewery. Not just women drinking beer but brewing it too – that’ll never catch on!!

As well as a range of regular cask beers Mallinsons also produce a range of single hop beers all named after the hop variety used in its production, I was lucky enough to enjoy a bottle of the delightful Simcoe while ruminating over this post after being asked the following;

Now Mallinsons’ naming conventions for their single hop range is simple, they name it after the hop used and in this instance the hop is Stella, an Australian hop that produces a very pale blonde beer with hoppy floral notes and a slight spiciness on the nose. But unless you’ve been living in a beer vacuum for the last 100 years there is already a beer called Stella, well Stella Artois to be exact, a big beast of a global beer brand and they’ve objected to someone else using the name that they have trade marked and asked Mallinsons not to.

If you’re trying to build a brand protecting your identity is one of the most important things you can do. Trade marking your brand name stops competitors trying to capitalise on your reputation by using a name that your consumers recognise or your reputation being damaged if you find a new line of anal lube has just launched under the same brand name. And not just your exact name but variants of to stop clever alecs trying to get round it by launching Mike Rowe Software or something similar.

So the clever IP lawyers at ABI have made sure they’ve not just trademarked Stella Artois but Stella too, after all that’s the bar call so it makes good sense that they have both. Not for everything, Stella the cat is safe to keep her name, just in class 32 that covers alcoholic drinks. That to me makes good business sense, why wouldn’t you protect your brand in that way?

Well seemingly it’s further evidence of corporate bullying that’s why, proof that the big boys are so threatened by the rise of craft beer they want to bully them out of existence. Actually no – it’s good business practice. Helpfully the Intellectual Property Office have a database you can check for free to see if your planned name has already been marked by someone else to avoid you getting into the same trap so there is no excuse for infringing someone else’s trademark.

There seems to be a view that breweries over a certain volume (largely determined by the crime committed at the time) can do no right which is madness. Success and scale does not instantly breed evil. Imagine if Ab-Inbev were to launch a new beer called Mallinsons, that could in no way be confused with the Huddersfield brews, would people be supportive of them using the name? No, they’d be seen as being so threatened by the rise of craft beer they want to bully them out of existence.

If there was a Nike, Nescafe, Kit Kat or Nintendo hop I’m guessing breweries wouldn’t be so quick to infringe their trademarks, it seems that in the world of brewing, the most inclusive world of all, big companies are seen as fair game and damned either way.

Diageo Gate was a shocking example of bad practise from a big brewer, bullying or stupidity I’m still not sure. This isn’t – this is sensible business practise to protect a brand name. My advice would be to take the same steps to protect your own.

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