Left Hand Brewing wages a trademark battle for the word "Nitro"

Categories: Beer Man

Thumbnail image for MilkStoutNitro1.jpg
On September 29, 2011, after the first night of the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Left Hand Brewing publicly revealed a bottled beer that its owners and brewers had spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to create.

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With Milk Stout Nitro, the Longmont company became the first craft brewer in the nation to gas one of its beers with a blend of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. As a result, the rich stout pours creamy and thick out of the bottle, with bubbles that cascade up from the bottom, just like it would if it were being drawn from a nitrogen-infused tap at a bar.

Left Hand had been fiercely secretive about Nitro beforehand, so much so that it didn't even file for a patent of its process, fearing that the beer could then be copied. The brewery did, however, apply for a trademark on the words "Milk Stout Nitro," hoping, like any good business, that it could protect the name of its invention.

But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied Left Hand's application that November, saying the term "Nitro" -- as it applies to beer -- had already been protected more than a decade earlier by a man named Eli Gershkovitch, who owns Vancouver, Canada's Steamworks Brewery (no relation to Steamworks Brewing in Durango).

The news was a blow to Left Hand, which was expanding rapidly, led now by Milk Stout Nitro, which quickly became a top-seller. Even worse, Gershkovitch and Steamworks didn't appear from its website to be making a beer with the word "nitro" in it, either in Canada or in the U.S. -- something it needed to do in order to protect the mark.

So, after doing some research, Left Hand decided to challenge Gershkovitch's claim to the word, and last July, it filed a petition to cancel his trademark.

Even more dramatically, Left Hand accused Gershkovitch of having outright lied to the government about its use of the word "nitro," insisting that he had never used the mark and that its registration "was obtained fraudulently."


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6 comments
chipperdave
chipperdave

Damn all this recent litigation against Colorado breweries! Who in their right mind thinks they can "own" a commonly used term like nitro.  It's not as if this company owns all of the nitrogen in the world.  Nitro is so commonly used in the beer industry that it shouldn't be possible to trademark.  Besides, they are Canadian - take off you hosers!

denverhbc
denverhbc

Gross! Lefthand should stop this nonsense so I can continue to drink their beer. It does no one any good to trademark terms that are used so much. Are you going to sue Nitro from American Gladiators? Are you going to attack every video game with a Nitro button? How about all of the other companies that have a product or are named Nitro? Fucking ridiculous. You used a generic, non-creative name and now you are getting all tough about it. Shitty.

chipperdave
chipperdave

While we're on the subject of trademarks, I wonder how the soon to open Fate Brewing is going to get away with using that name since there is already a Fate Brewing in Arizona.  I bet that will be the subject of a future lawsuit as well.  I asked Fate about that earlier and they told me they "hope" that won't be an issue.  Guess we'll see soon enough.

BeerLover
BeerLover

@denverhbc 

Lefthand is trying to trademark the phrase "Milk Stout Nitro" not "Nitro". So Nitro from American Gladiators and all of your other examples would be just fine. Steamworks, on the other hand, is trying to trademark the work "Nitro" as it applies to all beers. Direct your hate correctly, please.

denverhbc
denverhbc

@BeerLover Direct my nuts... Anyway, good for you. Still. "Milk Stout" shouldn't be allowed either. It all seems petty and ridiculous. It is damaging to the image of craft beer and I don't like it. I am in no way qualified to discuss trademark law but I am qualified (and thanks to the intenet, able) to say that I do not respect this type of thing. 

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