Black Raven Brewing Loses Trademark Case vs. Ravenswood Winery

June 21st, 2010 · 25 Comments · General Beer News, Washington Breweries

Our country’s legal system continues to amaze and befuddle me. Just a week after we heard news that Georgetown Brewing is renaming their 9LB Porter due to trademark issues, local upstart Black Raven Brewing just received news that they lost a battle to trademark their brewery name. Ravenswood Winery, which is owned by Franciscan Vineyards, essentially claimed ownership of the word “raven” in all alcoholic beverages and won. Black Raven fought this battle for two years, but in the end they lost their appeal.

It is important to understand that at this point Black Raven has not been issued a cease and desist letter to stop using their name. They have just been denied a trademark on their name because the court ruled that trademark would infringe on Ravenswood’s trademarks. For now, nothing happens. Beaux, Kat and Andy will just have to hope for the best at this point and keep churning out world-class beer (Wisdom Seeker is available at the brewery starting today!).

Sadly, these stories are getting awfully familiar. Not just in the northwest, but across the country. I shouldn’t need to point out how amazingly insane this is.

Here is a link to all of the court documents from the Trademark Trial at the Patent and Trademark Office.

To sum up the decision in the Appeal Board’s own words:

We conclude that consumers familiar with opposer’s wine sold under the opposition No. 9118175522 mark RAVENS, would be likely to believe, upon encountering applicant’s mark BLACK RAVEN BREWING COMPANY for beer, that the goods originate from or are associated with or sponsored by the same entity.

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25 Comments so far ↓

  • Beaux Bowman

    Well written, it is a sad commentary of how legal protections of trade names can get out of hand. We have no intention of changing our name and will continue to produce great beers. Thanks for the support!

  • Tony B.

    I don’t understand how someone looking for WINE with the name Raven in it would confuse it for BEER. People aren’t that stupid.

  • Tanya

    Absolutely ridiculous….keep making great beer!!!

  • kevin davey

    Hey Beaux, every think of making a “Ravenswood Bitter”? That’d give’em a kick in the pants!

  • Patrick

    > “We conclude that consumers familiar with opposer’s wine … would be likely to believe … that the goods originate from or are associated with or sponsored by the same entity.

    That’s funny. Any consumer that concluded that would have to be the stupidest consumer ever. How many wineries do you know that also make beer? Or vice versa? I can’t think of any.

    There’s a winery called Stone Cellars. Can you imagine someone going to a supermarket and saying Oh, I like Stone Cellars wine, they must make Stone Brewery beer too so I’ll buy that!

  • Lee Killough

    Talk about the difference between day and night!!! Going from winning the most tokens at the Brewers Festival — more than twice the second place winner — to this major loss.

    Don’t ever give up the Black Raven name — it’s already been built up by producing so many award-winning beers in just a year, that to lose the name would be almost as bad as losing the beer.

    Ravenswood’s claim that beer and wine are generally related and can be confused, or that they have the “same ultimate customers”, is ridiculous. Although sometimes sold and consumed in the similar venues, they are very different stuff, with very different customers and markets.

    Ravenswood’s logo would make a good dartboard!!!

  • Corey

    If it comes down to it can you use Blackraven, instead of Black Raven.

  • Lee Killough

    Or Black nevaR.

  • BeerBlotter

    Sad ruling, but TM law is tricky. Since they are essentially in the same industry (the law doesnt really differentiate between alcoholic beverages), I can see how this ruling is handed down.

    That being said, “raven” is a generic term and can be applied in a number of ways. Black Raven and Ravenswood are not starkly similar, but the court focused on the predominate use by both companies of the word “raven.” Ravenswood has the TM for “ravens” “ragin raven” “ravenswood”

    TM disputes are typically a matter of money and marketplace. If a company with TM thinks that they can prevail in a TM suit, they will typically do so for the purpose of merely enticing another company to go ahead and license the use of a competing mark. I hope that is not the case, but it often can be.

    BB.com

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  • Kendall

    While I agree with BeerBlotter about this not being a totally unexpected outcome, given the fact that they are in (more or less) the same market space, if the folks at Franciscan Vineyards truly believe that someone might confuse the two brands, that should make them ecstatic. After all, Black Raven’s beers are hand-crafted, lovingly created, award-winning, world-class, and best-of-breed. If anyone were going to worry about it at all, it is Black Raven who should worry about the brand confusion disparaging their reputation. Ever drink Ravenswood wines? Mass-produced swill.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I hate the ruling and all that it represents.

  • Ferment Nation

    You can call your brewery whatever you want, Beaux. We will still buy your beer!

    I suggest “Captain Fizzywigg’s Barley Drinks”

  • Beaux Bowman

    Thanks for the support, it all works out, we are not a victim, just a business subject to all the same rules and nonsense that happens every day.

  • Joel Peterson

    Ravenswood was founded in 1976 with $4,000. I made 327 cases of Zinfandel in that first vintage. Ravenswood was built (and continues to be operated) by an evolving, long term, stable group of dedicated, hardworking people who take their wine seriously, but have tried to have fun along the way. This, I suspect, is not a lot different than Black Raven Brewing Company.

    This is not a story of the big bad corporation beating up on the little guy. We did not go after Black Raven Brewing Company. Black Raven instigated this dispute by applying for the trademark “Black Raven Brewing Company”, which conflicted with almost all the registered “Raven” trademarks which we already own for adult beverages. I can assure you that I defend my Trademark just as vigorously when I was a 500 case winery as I do now. I feel fairly certain that Black Raven would do the same if they had succeeded in gaining the trademark. If they did not care about the trademark they would have never chosen to challenge ours. The law is fairly clear when it comes to trademarks, protect it or lose it.

    I love Beer. At one point in my career I seriously considered making a beer called “Ravens Brew” before I came to my senses and decided to stick to what I did well. There is a wonderful Brewery in Wisconsin called New Glaris whose brew master is a trained Winemaker. The Benziger Family Winery, here in Sonoma, did start a brewery. They made darn good beer, but ultimately exited that business. In spite of the rhetoric, it is not wholly out of the question that there could be cross over and confusion in the commerce between a winery and brewery. Indeed, the United States Patent & Trademark Office, after reviewing the facts, agreed.

    To sum it all up, this is clearly not about extracting money from Black Raven Brewing or chastising them for choosing a name that they knew at least two years ago was already trademarked, it is about maintaining control of our mark, and our winery’s recognition in a crowded marketplace. To co-opt and re-subject a quote from Reiser Legal’s Douglas Reiser who commented on this story, Ravenswood is not going to relinquish the trademark right to its name. “Who can blame them”? Ravenswood “has sunk an incredible amount of time, money and effort into building up a successful and well-known business icon”.

    We in the winemaking like to say that it takes a lot of beer to make good wine. I personally look forward to hoisting a tankard of Black Raven brew to the good health of the people at Black Raven Brewing Company and the success of their Venture. I know from personal experience how important good will and good luck are in nurturing a business that you love and care about. I also believe that there are a few wine enthusiasts among the Black Raven crew that would do the same for Ravenswood, with a glass of Ravenswood.

    By the way Kendall, Ravenswood Has received over 50 scores of greater than 90 points in the last two years from a wide array of wine critics. Fortunately your opinion is only one of many, and most of the experienced one would not agree with you. The wine is hardly mass produced swill.

  • Beaux Bowman

    Joel,

    As we discussed yesterday, I had and have no intention of violating your well earned trademark. The mark for Black Raven I felt was not an infringment, as did the trademark board when they approved it to move to the public comment phase of the process. This is where Ravenswood objected to it, as you have the right to. I really don’t see it as we “instigated” any action towards Ravenswood. If this logic is to be followed, I ask why other raven marks were allowed to be trade marked in the wine industry without your objection? Seems like a much bigger threat than a brewing company.

    Folks, the legal process was followed and Ravenswood won. I still do not think we would be violating their mark and in my opinion, trademark law should be re-evaluated but that is personal opinion. I had a great conversation yesterday with Joel when he called me. I respect him and what he has built. We both are very interested in building a positive relationship and getting folks to understand the actual facts of this action.

    Please see our website for our official statement and stance. We wish no ill will towards Joel and his team. We do not ask for nor support any boycott or other negative action. This has really been twisted out of context and we want folks to know the facts.

    Thank you,
    Beaux Bowman
    Black Raven Brewing Company

  • Joel Peterson

    Beaux,

    I really appreciate your rational and thoughtful position. I look forward to the final resolution of this issue with you so that we can move on to things that are more positive and definitely more fun. I love to see guys like you suceed. Given who you seem to be, I have no doubts that your company will be every thing that you want it to be.

    At the moment, I have no explaination of why of why other Ravens marks might have been let slip through. I can assure you that it was not intentional and that you you were not selected for “special treatment”. When I have an answer I will share it with you.

  • Beaux Bowman

    Thanks Joel,

    I am sure you can understand my frustration with feeling like we were being unfairly singled out. Thank you for the clarification that we were not being given the “special treatment”.

    I look forward to a positive and growing relationship with you and your team.

    Cheers,
    Beaux Bowman
    Black Raven Brewing

  • Dean Ruffner

    This is way too calm, rational and level-headed for the Internet.

    Someone should have called somebody else a Nazi by now…….

  • Sooz

    Red Door hair salon in Snohomish WA was sued by Elizabeth Arden. Remember they have Red Door perfume. So I’m not sure the similar product relates at all. Perhaps we should invent a new language unique to beer? Until then I look forward to a Black Raven Brewery night at Balefire in Everett! We can call it RKBAV LCANI night. Any ideas on how we’d pronounce that? And as far as the 9lb Porter from Georgetown, those guys always have my support…that case has only encouraged me to avoid at all costs Pyramid Brewing. Sorry guys, I don’t like the aftertaste of petty jealousy in my beer.

  • Kili

    To Beaux and Joel (et.al.):

    I am a Paralegal specializing in Intellectual Property (litigation and prosecution) particularly trademark litigation. Thank you both for posting your comments for all to see.

    VALUE OF A MARK
    This is an excellent example why, when deciding on a mark, you should ALWAYS conduct a search AND clearance by a qualified attorney! There is a list of factors that are weighed in every case and every case is unique. But if a good search and clear effort is not made, you could very well have a GREAT product only to find you will have to give up your mark and/or pay damages (or even all you profits) to the mark owner.

    OTHER INFRINGING MARKS?
    There is absolutely NO problem in going after one ‘offender’ and not others. Ultimately it’s up to the mark owner who they want to go after, when and how. However, to allow any/all infringers to continue to infringe on their mark would put the mark owner’s ownership at risk. In other words, protect it or lose it!

    LESSON LEARNED?
    If you have a product/idea, DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Have a qualified attorney conduct a comprehensive search and clearance of your trademark. Then, do MORE searching and clearing!! You should perhaps even learn something about the law/s you have to deal with.

    Bottom line, though I appreciate some of the strictly emotional comments above, the ruling was absolutely correct. Anyone who disagrees, doesn’t know the law.

  • Lee Killough

    Wow, spam, albeit personally directed, two years after the original discussion thread!!!

    Beaux knew about trademarks, and did not go into this without legal awareness.

    Meanwhile, Black Raven continues to prosper.

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