Craft beer's Goliath may have met its David. Oasis, Texas Brewing Company has no intention of surrendering to New Belgium Brewing. In a lawsuit filed Feb. 9, the beer giant is suing the Austin-based craft brewery for their use of the name Slow Ride. With no amicable resolution in sight, OTBC is ready to defend its right to the name in federal court.
When New Belgium CEO Kim Jordan called OTBC's general manager Max Schleder a week after the Great American Beer Festival, he thought it was to congratulate the brewery on their recent gold medal at GABF and offer an opportunity to collaborate on a beer. Instead, according to Schleder, Jordan threatened a lawsuit and demanded the brewery stop using the Slow Ride moniker for its bestselling beer. The tone was, "If you don't get out of the way we're gonna crush you, and you need to sign these joint-use agreements or else," says Schleder. In response, OTBC sent New Belgium a cease and desist. After a meeting with New Belgium's in-house counsel yielded no results, New Belgium filed suit.
According to New Belgium, they filed for the Slow Ride trademark after an exhaustive trademark search, including searches for common-law usage. Meaning, they attempted to ensure that no other brewery was using the brand Slow Ride before filing their trademark. However, Schleder disputes the search was "exhaustive," noting that Google searches of "Slow Ride pale ale" returned a top result for OTBC's beer when the trademark was filed. In addition, OTBC Slow Ride appeared on BeerAdvocate months before New Belgium's own Slow Ride. Schleder claims New Belgium is being underhanded and disingenuous. "It certainly seems like they knew about us," says Schleder, adding that the beer label was approved by TABC, posted about on their website, and reviewed on Untappd months before the appearance of New Belgium's beer of the same name. OTBC Slow Ride was even tweeted about by an Austin-based New Belgium employee.
However, according to NB, they did not know about Oasis, Texas Brewing's pale ale when they selected the name and filed to register the Slow Ride mark with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in May 2014. "We are confident we did the right due diligence. If all brewers took the simple step of registering for trademark, other folks looking into the name would see the mark and move on down their list," wrote New Belgium Media Relations Director Bryan Simpson in an email to the Chronicle, echoing a post published on the brewery's website. "Once we learned of the existence of Oasis and its new beer, we proactively reached out to them to see if we could resolve the issue. We suggested a number of possible solutions, including a collaboration beer and a co-existence agreement that would afford both parties the ability to sell their beer in the same markets."
However, this type of arrangement does not sit well with Oasis, as they do not want to be limited to the area and don't want their product overwhelmed with a beer of the same style and same name arguing they have the right to the name as a result of common-law usage. "If they want to drag us through this long legal process, it's not going to turn out good for them," says Schleder. "We will fight this, and we will protect our right. We're gonna end up with the little beer that wouldn't back down from the giant ... the scrappy little brewery that wouldn't back down."
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