Litigation in Craft Brewing – Port Brewing Files Suit against Moylan's Brewing

A spirit of collaboration between brewers and breweries has long marked the craft brew industry.  There has been a sense of camaraderie, a feeling of kinship between these small breweries all around the nation.  However, what happens to that spirit of collaboration and kinship when one company infringes on the intellectual property rights of another?  That's what Port Brewing feels has been done by Moylan's.

What's the issue here?  While you might think it stems from theft of a top-secret recipe or industrial sabotage, the issue is a bit different – it involved tap handles.  Yes, that's right; the crux of the lawsuit filed by Port Brewing Company, LLC against Moylan's Brewing Company, LLC is about tap handle design. 

Now, you first need to understand how important tap handle design is to branding in a company, large or small.  The tap handle designs associated with a company are just as important as the labels used on the bottles or the design on the beer packaging.  Therefore, it's easy to see why there might be an issue.

Moylan's has been using a Celtic cross tap handle design for a very long time.  Their original silver cross handle is well known.  However, in 2008, both Port Brewing and Moylan's Brewing both began using a highly stylized Celtic cross handle.  Moylan's used theirs for their Celts Ale, while Port Brewing used the design for their Lost Abbey run of beers.  It appears that the designs and motifs used are similar enough to be considered trademark infringement, as well.

Port Brewing holds that they were the first to use the design, and that Moylan's did not start using the design until after Port Brewing.  Port Brewing's blog goes into great depth about how much time and effort was spent trying to settle this matter outside of court, but an impasse resulted.  With no other options to protect their intellectual property, Port Brewing turned to litigation.  Does this mean that both companies will face off in a court of law?  Maybe, but that's not certain yet.

Port Brewing seems to be keeping their stance open to a settlement that does not involve legal action from a judge, and there is still the possibility of settling the matter outside a legal venue.  However, a courtroom showdown might be a foregone conclusion if the history of this issue is any indicator.  Let's hope for a speedy resolution, so both companies can get back to concentrating on their craft beers instead of legal rights.

Posted on January 15, 2011 and filed under The Business of Beer.