It was a short and clean message on Facebook: Brewery Pampus, named after the historical island where ships had to anchor at low tide before they could enter the harbor of Amsterdam, announced it will be changing name, logo and image as per 1 January 2017. A Belgian brewery had complained the name being too similar to one of their beer brands, and in order to protect their trademark they requested the brewery to change its name. An amicable settlement was reached. Internet – at least that part where the beer geeks and beer groupies gather – soon was on fire.
However much as I know Nando Servais (the brewery owner) being very unhappy with the matter, and however much as deep in his heart he would have loved to put up a fight and take the matter to court, he chose to settle: focus on beer and brewing, not wasting time and energy on a potentially lost cause. I admire him for that, as I admire him for the restraint and rational way in which he released the news. He is not throwing mud or calling names. He is probably kicking himself too, for not having checked well enough if his chosen name was protected by trademark or not. He is focusing on the future and he will not make the same mistake again. I admire him for having put his senses before his emotions. He did that from day one, and when he told me about this issue, during Bier West and asking me to keep it to myself, he kept his cool.
Now, internet is still on fire. Newspapers and websites brought the news, and Facebook was full of support messages for Nando and Pampus – kicking Delirium and Brewery Huyghe without any further ado, for it is this brewery, and particularly its pilsner flagship Campus that the trademark issue is about. Respected beer authorities like Bierista’s Alain Schepers wrote commentaries, questioning the justness of the quest by Brewery Huyghe to defend its possession. Schepers wrote ‘it feels big money has won from a small brewer, who passionately brews great beers. I have no problem with a financially strong party winning, if this means justice is done, and I do not have that feeling here.’
I cannot escape the thought that geeks, groupies and authorities let their emotions overcome their senses. Because, if one takes a step back, one has to realize that Brewery Huyghe, although significantly larger than Brewery Pampus, is not even a mid-sized brewery in the larger scope of things. They produce around 225.000 hectoliter of beer, and I dare you to state the brewery or its brewers DO NOT brew these passionately. And I am very sure Mr. Alain de Laet, the current CEO, is significantly richer than I am – but big money I would not say. He is not to be confused with Antoine Bosteels, who cashed out to Big Money recently.
Most importantly: justice wàs done, however painful it may be to really see that, but that’s why one should never lose one’s sense when emotions run high.
The most important thing any company owns is its brands. These brands and products make a company unique and need therefore be clearly distinguishable from others. They need to be protected too, as if your products are your children, and the names they go by are the brands: the most valuable immaterial asset you’ll ever own. Lose your name and you’re nothing.
Of course Alain de Laet couldn’t do anything else. Because Pampus is a small brewery now, and no one will likely confuse their beers with Huyghe’s flagship pilsner, you cannot let a possible trademark infringement go. What if Carlos Britto comes by and does another Bosteels? What if Pampus gets real big and starts selling beer to Belgium? And what do you think Nando will do when, let’s say, De Bierderie releases a beer called Seeheld, or Blinck IPA? What if Kees releases Kees Nachtschot, or De Molen a Bloedvlag? Provided he has registered his trademarks well, he would have requested them to cease using these names – friendly, but ready to sue if he had to.
It has happened a zillion times before, and size doesn’t matter. Brouwerij De Prael started out as Brouwerij De Parel, until Brouwerij Budels summoned them to change the name which was identical to their Parel Blond. De Prael used to name their beers after the style, and were – again – summoned to cease calling one of them ‘Kölsch’, because of the Kölsch Konvention (now Bitterblond). Lagunitas sued Sierra Nevada: the Petaluma-based brewery has an IPA on which label, in big letters, is written ‘IPA’. Sierra Nevada also wrote IPA in big letters on its Hop Hunter and wham: lawsuit (which was settled and dropped before they went to court). Sierra Nevada itself summoned Anchor Brewing Company to stop calling one of their beers ‘Odeprot’: the brew in question was Anchor’s tribute to the ‘torpedo’, a particular contraption devised by Sierra Nevada to dry hop their beers, amongst which is Torpedo IPA. Anchor’s Odeprot is a semi-palindrome tribute: it is Torpedo spelled backwards. Sierra Nevada was not amused, and Anchor Odeprot is now discontinued. Brewery Huyghe had it happen to themselves, when they were about to launch their fruit-infused wheat beers: now known as the Floris franchise, they were originally called ‘Florisgaarden’. Interbrew, the predecessor of ABI, had a couple of lawyers at Alain de Laet’s throat in no-time: it did not go as amicably as the Pampus case.
In short: however much understandable as the emotions may be, they are part of the real world we’re in. Brewing is business and subject to rules and laws. Big or small, you have to defend what’s legally yours. The brewing industry, whether craft, industrial, or however you choose to name it, is not a pixie fairytale of peace-loving lambs, cavorting in green meadows. It is comradery and collaboration when possible, and strictly business when necessary. Now, let’s all grow up, let our senses sooth our emotions and all have a great beer of our own choice and preference. O, and brewers all across the globe, make a note to yourself to check your trademark registrations first thing tomorrow. Get your act together.