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Another trademark violation case has been decided, but this time, it appears to have been in the favor those who make craft beer ... whatever that means.
What does the term "craft beer" mean to you? Does it evoke images of crusty, bearded men over rusty antique vats and hand-stirred mash? If it does, and you go out to buy a case of Blue Moon, the joke's on you.
The use of the terms "craft beer," "artfully crafted," and other such marketing terms was at the center of Evan Parent's class action lawsuit against MillerCoors ("MC"), the giant Mega-Brewery.
The counts Parent brought against MC included deceptive and misleading advertising under California Statutes and Professional Business Code. Parent alleged that MC had no business labeling its Blue Moon brand of beers "Craft Beer" or "artfully crafted" because the way in which is manufactured -- not crafted -- doesn't even come close to the Brewers Association (BA) definition of the term. The condition for labeling a beer craft under that standard are: fewer that 6 million barrels produced annually, the brewer must be a majority stakeholder, and the beer must be made using only "traditional or innovative brewing ingredients." You'll notice how this list isn't vague at all ... of course not.
Plaintiffs alleged that the labeling was an intentional move by MC to distance Blue Moon from its other appreantly "non-craft" brands like Coors -- even though Blue Moon is made in the very same plant as its lower priced brethren.
Judge Curiel was not convinced and was persuaded by MC's counter that no reasonable consumer could have been misled by MC's use of term "craft beer" and "artfully crafted" because the Brewer's Association definition did not apply and there is no applicable standard. Thus, the court dismissed the case.
Further, Judge Curiel likened "artfully crafted" to an unchallengeable statement of fact tantamount to marketing puffery.
Judge Curiel has given plaintiffs 30 days to amend their complaint to try again with further evidence of MC's alleged deception.
This case highlights a number of troubling aspects about the vintage/craft/artisan culture that has become oh-so chic these days. Even if the Brewers Association definition of "craft beer" were found to apply, a beer could likely be made traditional or innovative by slightly tweaking the methods of production.
Also, although Judge Curiel's decision is well reasoned, it is troubling that MC's argument held water in court. "Craft beer" and "artfully crafted" may not have a mathematically defined standard, but it very definitely does not say to a consumer that a particular beer is made in the same manner as Coors. And MC and other companies know this. Companies make their money in that nebulous region between stretching of truth and bold-faced lying.
MillerCoors' argument about "craft beer" is really a statement about either consumers' inability to discriminate good quality from bad, or the consumers' willingness to be bamboozled. Maybe both.
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