Innovation wins trademark dispute with Bell’s Brewery

TASTES LIKE VICTORY: Innovation Brewing of Sylva has won its long trademark battle with Bell's Brewery of Michigan. Photo courtesy of Innovation Brewing

It took more than two years to sort out, but a small local brewery has won its hard-fought trademark battle with a big Midwestern-based brand.

Innovation Brewing of Sylva will keep it name and trademark after the legal dispute with Bell’s Brewery of Kalamazoo, Mich.

In 2015, Innovation, owned by Nicole Dexter and her husband Chip Owen, had a federal action filed against it by Bell’s over the Jackson County brewery’s name. Bell’s claimed that using the word “innovation” infringed on its advertising slogan, “bottling innovation since 1985.”

Bell’s also said its slogan, “inspired brewing,” would be confused with Innovation’s name. Innovation responded by saying the “bottling innovation” slogan was not protected as a registered trademark and was not used with the sale of a beer.

The federal Trademark Trials and Appeals Board in Virginia says there is little chance of confusion by consumers and dismissed Bell’s action on Dec. 20. (The board’s full opinion is available to read online.)

Bells’s action against Innovation led to plenty of local support for the smaller brewery, and some area taprooms temporarily stopped selling the Michigan beer.

Owen and Dexter could not be reached for comment this week, but Bell’s says it is moving on. “We respect the Trademark Office’s decision and look forward to doing business as usual,” the brewery said in an emailed statement to Xpress.

The Asheville Brewers Alliance, which represents local breweries and beer-related businesses, is happy to have the matter resolved. “We are glad that one of our members can put this behind them and continue to focus on making great craft beer,” says executive director Kendra Penland. “We are happy that this is one less thing for them to worry about.”

With the enormous growth of U.S. craft brewing, trademark and naming issues are not uncommon among breweries and beers, but they have often been resolved without legal action. As of 2017, more than 5,300 craft breweries were open across the country, according to the Brewers Association trade group.


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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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2 thoughts on “Innovation wins trademark dispute with Bell’s Brewery

  1. Beer Lover

    When Bells brewing chose to bully a startup brewery over a name they had no trademark for, they showed their true colors, and it’s not a pretty color.
    I support the business that chose to stop selling Bell’s product, and I still will not buy Bells. The fact they lost does not change who they are and their bully mindset.

    There are too many breweries that make beer as good and better than Bells, so no longer buying theirs isn’t a sacrifice.

  2. Ken

    Come on Beer Lover… Craft beer is a rough and tumble growing business that requires a mature defensive legal posture sometimes. Don’t take it so personally.

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