In brewery war of words, Bell’s vs. Innovation is waged via social media

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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innovation_brewing_sylva_2015The beer battle between big Bell’s Brewery in Michigan and little Innovation Brewing in Sylva, about 45 minutes west of Asheville, was waged Thursday via social media. The firestorm started following an Asheville Citizen-Times story published Wednesday that detailed a trademark dispute between the two. Last year, Bell’s took action to stop Innovation from trademarking its name. Bell’s claimed trademarking the Innovation Brewing name could confuse customers because Bell’s uses the unregistered advertising slogan “bottling innovation since 1985.”

Reaction on social media was swift, with a wave of support for Innovation. In Asheville, Katuah Market pulled Bell’s beer off its shelves and canceled a tasting, according to WLOS. The Bywater bar announced it would stop selling Bell’s. A host of other Asheville-area craft brewers proclaimed their support of Innovation.

There’s a petition on asking Bell’s to stop its legal action. There’s also a gofundme campaign aimed at raising money to help Innovation offset legal fees.

Thursday morning, Bell’s Vice President Laura Bell issued this statement. I saw it first on Twitter:

To our Bell’s customers and the passionate craft beer community,

We want to clear up a few things regarding our federal trademark dispute with Innovation Brewing.

We have not, and are not asking them to change their name or their logo. There is no lawsuit. We are not suing them. We have not asked them for money. We have not asked them to stop selling their beer. We are asking them to withdraw their federal trademark application.
Our concern is with their United States trademark application and potential impact on our brand, which we have spent 30 years building.
I personally reached out to Innovation Brewing to try to settle this matter in February 2014 and attempted to talk about this brewer to brewer instead of involving lawyers. Our efforts were rebuffed and Innovation Brewing choose to pursue this in the legal system.
Over the last year, we have offered co-existence agreements and have offered to pay for their legal fees. We tried to find solutions that would work for both of us. Their response was to ask for an exorbitant amount of money and we did not feel that was a collaborative solution.
All offers that we proposed were rejected and after more than a year of discussion regrettably, this matter has moved to the federal trademark office.
We have the utmost respect for Innovation Brewing and we are going to keep any comments we have regarding this matter positive, honest, and collaborative. We want them to continue to brew and do the good work they’re doing under their own name.

We hope to resolve this as swiftly as the system will allow.

The passion that we have seen over the past few days is a testament to how much the beer industry means to those who support it and why we are proud to be a part of it. We always appreciate further feedback and invite everyone to continue to share their concerns with us directly.

Thursday afternoon, Innovation owners Nicole Dexter and Chip Owen responded with this statement, posted to their Facebook page:

To Our Wonderful Craft Beer Community:

We felt it was important to get our story out to the media because this is an important matter for the craft beer industry. We did not intend (nor do we want to) have a social media battle with Bell’s, but because of allegations posted on Bell’s Brewery’s Facebook page we now have to defend ourselves. Settlement discussions are protected communications that are not to be disclosed publicly, so out of respect to Bell’s Brewery’s rights we would never have disclosed them. Furthermore, Mr. Bell pointedly stated that he would not “play this out on social media” – and so we again respected his wishes by keeping the details to ourselves. Now, it appears they changed their mind.

We are planning to deliver a full statement of the facts and events that have brought us to this point. Until then, we feel it necessary to respond to Ms. Bell’s enumerated allegations. Thank you for continuing to support and believe in us. You keep us going through this difficult time.

1. Yes, this is a TM proceeding and not a lawsuit, although it is like a lawsuit, requiring legal representation, being personally deposed, and including a trial. They are asking us to withdraw our federal trademark application for our brand name.

2. We do not believe that any human on earth would confuse Innovation Brewing with Bell’s Brewery, despite their slogans.

3. Laura Bell did contact me at 7:00 pm the night before their opposition filing was due. They had already hired attorneys to represent them and file for their extension to file the opposition. We had not hired an attorney. After she advised us that she would “let us” keep using the name in NC only, and never expand beyond it, she said that we had until the next day at 5:00 PM to respond. That is 22 hours to find an attorney and decide on the future of our business. That was the one and only attempt Ms. Bell made to contact me. From there their attorneys took over.

4. Not a single co-existence agreement has ever been presented to us by Bell’s. In fact it was we who submitted a written co-existence agreement – subsequently declined by Bell’s. The only monetary compensation they have ever offered us was $2,500 which was to cover the inconvenience of being forced to abandon our trademark and go register a different one. The “legal fees”, as Ms. Bell puts it, brought on by their legal action against us, may exceed $50,000. We did not feel like being bought off.

5. This matter was before the TM office one day after she began talking to us. No offer has ever been presented to us other than the offer to limit our business to NC or take $2,500 to start over and build a new brand. We believe in our business, so those are not really offers at all.

6. In regards to Laura Bell stating “we hope to resolve this as swiftly as the system will allow” we suggested the accelerated trademark opposition process that would have brought this to a legal end much sooner and with far less expense, but Bell’s denied it.

You great people don’t deserve to be peppered with sides of the story. So we will give you a full account of the facts so you can decide for yourself. We are good people and we know we have your support. Stay tuned.

-Chip and Nicole

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Das Drew March 13, 2015

    Embarrassing. The human race is embarrassing.

  2. Mike March 13, 2015

    The only winners in this battle is the attorneys.

    Bells paying a ton, and a lot of what seems like them being A-holes, I’m sure is just their attorneys advice.

    Innovation, being financially hurt because of LEGAL FEES, and a fundraiser for the sole purpose but to pay LEGAL FEES.

    Attorneys write the rules, enforce the rules, defend the rules, and get paid the whole time on all sides.

    Take out the attorney’s and their fees and they would probably of had this figured out long ago for $5 (the cost of the beer they had during the talk)

    Now Bell’s is having a PR issue (for the company of their size) and Innovation is having a Cash Flow issue.

    1. indie March 13, 2015

      Bells was under no obligation to take their attorney’s advice. Only foolish managers blindly do so.

      Bells is just full of themselves and their claim doesn’t begin to pass the laugh test. Claims such as theirs are designed to crush small companies with shallow pockets. The remedy is that should they lose, Innovation should receive at significant damages as well as attorney fees.

      1. Mike March 13, 2015

        Again, I strongly don’t think that Bells was ‘scouring’ the USA for potential name ‘infringements’ upon their ‘brand’ – there attorneys were.

        They probably got a call from their attorneys saying ” ah heck no, somebody down south trying to infringe upon you, you better tell em to stop or your brand will be affected” or something coherently similar.

        Bells’ are victims of their own attorneys ‘bad’ advice, and horrible PR control of the issue.


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