Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Magic Hat / West Sixth Trademark Dispute: Settlement

The good news is that Magic Hat and West Sixth breweries agreed on a settlement to their intense, and public, dispute.  A joint press release stated that the parties have come to a mutually agreeable solution to the trademark problem.  Here it is in its entirety

"Official Statement
West Sixth & Magic Hat

The parties have a mutual interest in assuring that consumers perceive their products as distinct.

The parties have mutually resolved the issues addressed in the lawsuit in a manner that eliminates potential confusion about product origin and resolves the lawsuit in a mutually acceptable way.

To the extent West Sixth in any way represented that Magic Hat filed a frivolous lawsuit, that Magic Hat initiated litigation improperly, that Magic Hat was unresponsive in negotiating a resolution, that Cerveceria Costa Rica was itself involved in the dispute or its resolution, that Magic Hat claimed ownership of the numeral 6, that Magic Hat sued West Sixth after West Sixth had already acceded to its demands, that Magic Hat has no Vermont presence, or that Magic Hat sought to recover for or enjoin West Sixth from truthful public statements, such representations are retracted. West Sixth regrets that it in any manner communicated any inaccuracies, and hereby corrects those errors.

Both Magic Hat and West Sixth have agreed that this joint statement will be the last public communication from either side regarding the resolved dispute.

Each wishes the other good fortune and continued success."

So, there it is.  It seems the mediation worked, and the slight change to West Sixth's label was the removal of a compass / star image.  That's it...as far as labeling goes.  But what takes up the bulk of this joint message is public relations mending.  Why is the biggest paragraph essentially an apology from West Sixth about its public comments during the dispute?  After all this time and threats of litigation, what comes out is a simple (relatively) label edit and a long, drawn out "regret". Does this seem odd?

In fact, no, it doesn't. At least not to those in the field of conflict management. To them, they see this paragraph of apology as addressing the main issue for Magic Hat: public image and possibly hurt feelings.  While the label dispute was the main issue, as soon as it hit the social media stream it became a side dish.

They're not alone. Even more recently the international, conglomerate brewer, giant corporation AB-InBev reportedly issued a cease and desist to extremely tiny, ma-and-pop brewery Belleville Brewing in the UK.  Now, Ab-InBev is the type of large corporation that can weather a flame war of public image on the social networks, so they probably aren't worried about this dispute's affect on their image. And as far as image goes, this can help Belleville...assuming it survives the legal costs. This dispute is a bit different from other brewing trademark cases because of the disparity of sizes between the disputants. This is not true with most other cases, where disparity in size may exist, but not to this extreme.

The fact is, most breweries involved in trademark (or other) disputes cannot afford negative press, litigation or drastic label changes. One may suggest that breweries refrain from hitting the social media airways that flame the dispute.  Yet social media is a weapon, and powerful enough to counter, or at least dissuade, the use of legal maneuvering. Plus, anything filed through the courts is public domain anyway, so the dispute is not reserved to privacy. This does not mean that relying on social media is effective or efficient. It creates an uncontrollable firestorm; a Pandora's box of back-and-forth. It can get ugly.

With Magic Hat and West Sixth, at least the label dispute is resolved and the public firestorm over (well, maybe not. Supporters of both sides, and fed-up neutrals, may still vent and foam over this mess). Both companies can go about making beer, and making a living.  That's the important part. Hopefully this situation serves as a lesson to other breweries in similar situations.  Hopefully.