Opening Statements

Bottoms Up, Litigation Down: Microbrewers Forsake Litigation, Opt for Collaborative Blend

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Photo courtesy of Avery Brewing Company.

With hundreds of microbreweries churning out new craft beers every year, clever names are in short supply. So it’s hardly a surprise that two different brewers would end up selling a Belgian ale with the name Salvation.

One or the other could have fired off a cease-and-desist letter. Or both might have marched into court to duke it out. Lots of big brewers and winemakers do, spending upwards of $150,000 to hang on to naming rights.

But brewers Adam Avery and Vinnie Cilurzo took a different tack. When the two noticed their ales had identical names, one asked the other what they should do.

Instead of litigation, they decided to raise a glass and, a few drinks later, they were blending the two ales. Pretty soon, they had a new product on their hands—one that Avery says combines the best qualities of both.

But what to name it? Redemption? Temptation? Parking Violation? Couldn’t be done. Cilurzo’s Russian River Brewing Co. had already taken those names. So Cilurzo’s wife, Natalie, who knew of her husband’s fondness for names ending in -tion, came up with a better idea: Collaboration Not Litigation.

Lawyers seem to like the story of Collaboration Not Litigation ale, which not coincidentally is a hit at law office parties. But trademark lawyers caution that the two may have some problems down the road if they continue to sell the original Belgian ales under the same name. “It makes it harder to prevent others from infringing because you’ve basically sanctioned the infringement,” says Barry Strike, an alcoholic-beverage lawyer in San Francisco.

Potential acquirers may also look askance at the practice and knock down the price they’re willing to pay for the business. Jay Behmke, a Santa Rosa, Calif., lawyer who specializes in trademark law in the alcoholic-beverage industry, says he’s seen buyers knock $2 million off the purchase price for wineries that don’t protect their products’ names. “That’s going to hurt,” he says.

Neither Avery nor Cilurzo seems too worried about this prospect, especially since they’re not planning to sell. Avery says that for most brewers their work is a labor of love that grew out of a hobby. “Why would you ever sell your hobby?” he asks.

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