If you were anything like me as a child, you had an unyielding love of the Star Wars films. From the wreched hive of scum and villainy that was Mos Eisley to a floating outpost called Cloud City, the films presented a world unlike anything I had ever seen. Perhaps most important to its longevity, it created an entire universe ready to be filled with stories of heroes and villains and rogues and every dramatic possibility that might ensue. And in the 35+ years since A New Hope landed in theaters, Star Wars has grown from a single movie to an entire industry, with numerous books, video games, and TV series building on the far,far away galaxy George Lucas created. Given the moneymaking potential inherent in putting the Star Wars name on a product, the desire to protect the brand is understandable, which is why Luke and Leia's parent company finds a recent trademark filing disturbing.
Lucasfilm has filed in opposition to a trademark application from Syracuse-based Empire Brewing Co. over one of it's latest creations. The brew is a boch lager that Empire has named "Strikes Boch," which would make the beer's full title Empire's Strikes Boch, a sly reference to 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. Not surprisingly, Lucasfilm, which was purchased by Disney in 2012 for $4 billion, did not appreciate the cleverness of the title, and have taken action to send Empire's application the way of Alderaan. Lucasfilm claims that the name might create confusion amongst customers. While such a claim might usually be met with criticism that no one would think there's a Star Wars beer, in this case, there's some merit to it. George Lucas is the owner of Skywalker Vineyards, which sells an award-winning Skywalker Pinot Noir, and even Lando Calrissian has been known to peddle adult beverages. In its opposition filing, Lucasfilm states that:
“Lucasfilm has a long history of using such marks for food and beverages, including wine. The fact that consumers have been exposed to and accustomed to seeing Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS Film Franchise marks in connection with food and beverages, including wine, increases the already existing likelihood of confusion.”
In defending the application, Empire Brewing Co. owner David Katleski took the pedantic approach, stating that the beer name is simply "Strikes Boch," not "Empire Strikes Boch," while ackowlwdging that the bottle's label may make it appear as "Empire Strikes Boch." Katleski affirmed his plan to fight Lucasfilm on the matter, but acknowledged that it would be difficult to go against the financial clout of Lucasfilm, stating, "It's kind of a 'big dog against small dog' thing." While Lucasfilm would appear to hold the advantage, a victory for Empire Brewing Co. wouldn't be the first instance of a scrappy underdog defeating an empire.
When starting any venture, it's essential to make sure you have the right to use any names or marks related to your brand. The cost of rebranding and the possibility of legal action could find you in a precarious position.
If we had a nickel for every time a new IP infringement case opened up, let's just say we would be as rich as George Lucas.
Small businesses, save your nickels!
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