Trademarks, or We Are Saturated with Craft Beer

Earlier this week, Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing celebrated their third anniversary, on the same week that they were named by Rate Beer as one of the ten best breweries in the world.

To commemorate their anniversary, they released cans of a special 3rd Anniversary IPA.

Other Half Brewing's 3rd Anniversary Ale

“You don’t save Other Half’s 3rd Anniversary IPA for a special occasion. The special occasion is when you drink it.”

I didn’t actually get to buy this beer, nor did I visit Other Half in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, on the occasion of their third anniversary. But I did see that this special brew is available at a local beer establishment down the street from me. And yes, I do plan on getting a can before they run out.

When I first saw the can, I didn’t correctly identify the producers. I didn’t think “Other Half Third Anniversary.” I thought “Threes,” as in Threes Brewing, another brewery located in nearby Gowanus, Brooklyn.

The case of mistaken identity is notable because, about a year ago, Threes Brewing was engaged in a dispute over their name with another brewery in southern New Jersey, named Three 3s. Brooklyn’s Threes even took their case to their Instagram followers, asking whether they should pursue legal action against Jersey’s Three 3s.

I chimed in and thought that the different names and wordmarks—as well as their very different sense of graphic design—were enough to distinguish one brewery from another. Also, the two don’t seem to compete in each other’s markets. Threes is primarily in Brooklyn, and Three 3s is in Hammonton, about halfway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. But my initial confusion with Other Half’s Third Anniversary commemorative can suggests, at least to me, that there’s so much beer out there that it’s almost impossible to not inadvertently release that might run afoul of someone else’s creation or intellectual property.

As the late Umberto Eco wrote, “books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”

The purpose of a trademark is to prevent a consumer from confusing one product with another and to protect the reputation of the company that holds the legal right to that trademark. Again, I don’t see anyone reasonably confusing one brewery with another, as with Threes and Three 3s. Furthermore, I certainly don’t think that the fine folks at Threes Brewing would ask Other Half to cease and desist: it’s not a neighborly thing to do, and no one owns a trademark on the number three.

In any case, potential trademark clashes such as these are a sign that the craft beer industry is in really good shape. There’s a lot of beer being brewed right now and some day we’ll look back at this period as a golden age of craft beer. We can drink a lot of different beers, and we have no hope of ever drinking the same beer twice. This is a good problem to have.

But alas, the history of every Golden Age ends in one of two ways: with a spectacular crash or slow withering decline. Either way, Golden Ages don’t last forever, and the craft beer industry will be no exception. I can’t tell exactly why the Golden Age of Craft Beer will end, but here are some theories:

  • People’s taste will change and they will stop drinking beer.
  • There will be too many breweries, and the beer-drinking public will settle in to their choices. The others will die.
  • Breweries begin to merge and consolidation will take hold of yet another industry.
  • There will be a hops crisis like the one in 2008. Never forget!
  • Teetotaling Trump will sign some executive order that will ban all beer that is not the same color of his skin. At least Schofferhofer will remain on the market.

All of this is to say that we should enjoy this period before all we have to drink is something from Goose Island and Ballast Point.

I’ll let you know what I think about that can of Other Half 3rd Anniversary IPA as soon as I get to enjoy one.

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