Bud, Guinness, Sam Adams protest Left Hand Brewing's attempt to trademark "Nitro"

Categories: Beer Man

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Left Hand Brewing in Longmont has been looking to get control of the word "Nitro" since 2011, first by wresting the trademark away from a small Canadian brewer that had never used it and then by filing a trademark claim of its own on the word as it relates to beer.

But that effort bubbled over last week when three much larger breweries -- Boston Beer Corp. (which makes Sam Adams), Diageo (which brews Guinness) and Anheuser Busch -- all filed motions with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office protesting the effort.

And on Thursday, Left Hand's Longmont neighbor, Oskar Blues Brewing, revealed that it plans to market one of its own beers using the word Nitro starting next week.

See also: Left Hand Brewing bottles two more nitro beers, settles lawsuit over the word "Nitro"

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On Wednesday, Left Hand posted a statement on its website saying that its goals in trademarking the term "Nitro" have been misunderstood.

"We are seeking to protect the name of our best selling products that we have spent a significant amount of time and resources to develop, not the style -- not nitrogenated beers. Unfortunately, much of what we are seeing being picked up by media and shared recently is to the contrary," the statement read. "We do not wish to halt craft innovation or stop nitro-style beers from being produced or poured. We are simply trademarking the name our bottled beer has become so well known for. We believe another beer named simply, 'Nitro' or 'Milk Stout Nitro', would confuse the public and dilute the strength of the brand we have worked so hard to build."

Representatives of Diageo and Boston Beer didn't immediately return calls seeking comment; we'll add them to this story if they do.

Left Hand altered the beer-drinking landscape in October 2011 when it announced during the Great American Beer Festival that it had come up with a way to inject nitrogen into its bottled Milk Stout so that it pours smooth and creamy, like a draft beer.

Milk Stout Nitro quickly became the Longmont company's best-selling beer brand, and a year later, the brewery began selling two more nitrogenated beers: Sawtooth, a version of its flagship ESB, and Wake Up Dead, a Russian Imperial Stout.

Although Left Hand didn't patent its process because it didn't want other breweries to be able to see the science involved, it did try to trademark the word "Milk Stout Nitro" at the same time that it released the beer in 2012. But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the application, saying the term "Nitro" had been protected more than a decade earlier by Eli Gershkovitch, who owns Steamworks Brewery in Vancouver.

After doing some research, Left Hand decided to challenge Gershkovitch's claim to the word, saying that he had never used the mark. The two companies later settled the dispute out of court; details of that settlement weren't released, but Left Hand filed its trademark application again in September 2013, for both "Nitro" and "Milk Stout Nitro."

The trademark was granted in February, but the three breweries mentioned above have since filed motions asking that they be given until June to investigate and potentially oppose the claim.

Guinness also makes a nitrogenated beer, but it uses a device known as a "widget" to create that effect in the bottle. Left Hand, which spent three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on its technology, is the first U.S. craft brewer to make a bottled beer on nitro -- and so far, it is still the only brewery to do so

Many other breweries distribute versions of their beers that are designed to be served on nitro, meaning they are mixed with nitrogen rather than Co2 when they are served. Breckenridge Brewery, for instance, recently began focusing on a nitro version of its Vanilla Porter, and Oskar Blues has been distributing its Old Chub on nitro as well.

On Tuesday, Oskar Blues said it would start distributing a canned version of Old Chub, a Scotch ale, on nitro, one that would be made with a widget, like Guinness. The beer will be widely available this spring in four-packs of sixteen-ounce cans.

The brewery had intended to make a big reveal of the beer during the Craft Brewers Conference, a national trade show taking place in Denver in early April.

"This is something we've been working on for a while. You want to do it the right way," says Oskar Blues spokesman Chad Melis.

Left Hand co-founder Eric Wallace didn't return a call seeking comment, but company spokeswoman Emily Armstrong said Left Hand is "100 percent motivated in protecting our own brand and investment and employees." She said the company doesn't want to halt innovation in the craft-brewing industry but acknowledged that Left Hand would have to protect the word "Nitro" if it is granted the trademark.

That could mean suing Oskar Blues if the company uses the word Nitro on its can, but Left Hand said it would not to do that in this Facebook post:

"Left Hand will continue to be supportive of our craft brew brethren. In fact, we just returned from Oskar Blues, also in Longmont, Colorado and famous for revolutionizing craft beer in cans, where our two founders and employees celebrated the innovation of Oskar Blues' Old Chub Nitro in the can. Left Hand Brewing will not be pursuing any action against Oskar Blues (who has filed for their own trademark for Old Chub Nitro) and is congratulatory for this major craft accomplishment -- nitro in the can."

Melis confirmed that since Oskar Blues isn't planning to bottle its nitro beer, but will instead can it, that Left Hand had been supportive.


Follow Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan and on Facebook at Colo BeerMan

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26 comments
Bret Kantola
Bret Kantola

Alcoholics Anonymous must be having a new member drive.

AugmentedFourth
AugmentedFourth

A trademark should never have been granted for "Nitro"! Anyone remotely familiar with the craft beer industry would have immediately dismissed the application as a "descriptive mark".

Keith Laubhan
Keith Laubhan

I am far from a trademark attorney, but it's my understanding that no, it wouldn't. I believe it would only apply to brands within the same sector.

Mike DePape
Mike DePape

I wouldn't mind if Left Hand trademarked Nitro, however that takes away from more than just the beer industry.. nitro can be found in drag racing, boats, cars, snowboards, gaming, etc... would the trademarking of "nitro" affect these other non-beer industries as well?

Diana Reavis
Diana Reavis

don't be douchey Left Hand Brewing Company, trademark the whole name 'Milk Stout Nitro', or whatever other nitros you come up with, but not the word Nitro.

Cessna Herrera
Cessna Herrera

Shame on Lefthand. Beers on Nitro have been around forever.

Jose Montoya
Jose Montoya

Chris that is a widget. It's not the same.

Jose Montoya
Jose Montoya

Actually they did. They are the first to use in a beer. In the bottle. No widget, no nada.

Chris Trotter
Chris Trotter

This pisses me off. Well Left Hand I guess you will lose me as a customer and I am greatly upset by this. My favorite Beer in the World is a Nitro that comes from Scotland and has been in production as a Nitro and sold in bottles and cans that are Nitrogenated for longer than Left Hand has been around. Hell they invented the can and bottle that even Guiness licensed from them to use for Guniess sold in the US. Lots of other breweries also licensed their cans for their Nitro beers. Left Hand has dont nothing new or original with Nitro I am sorry. But there have been lots of Nitro beers sold in stores before Left Hand released Nitro Milk Stout.

cdndenver
cdndenver

This pisses me off. Well Left Hand I guess you will lose me as a customer and I am greatly upset by this. My favorite Beer in the World is a Nitro that comes from Scotland and has been in production as a Nitro and sold in bottles and cans that are Nitrogenated for longer than Left Hand has been around. Hell they invented the can and bottle that even Guiness licensed from them to use for Guniess sold in the US. Lots of other breweries also licensed their cans for their Nitro beers. Left Hand has dont nothing new or original with Nitro I am sorry. But there have been lots of Nitro beers sold in stores before Left Hand released Nitro Milk Stout.

Sarah Edgerton LeClair
Sarah Edgerton LeClair

Of course it doesn't! "Nitro" It's a technique that all breweries use on different beers! It shouldn't be patented to one brewery! "Nitro" is the same as "carbonated". It shouldn't be allowed!!! Did Left hand create this technique? Did they create the name? NOPE!!! Definitely shouldn't be allowed! They need to be more creative with their patents... PERIOD!!!!!!

Becca Sullivan
Becca Sullivan

Screw 'em. Left Hand is the greatest in the land.

Michael J. Dicker
Michael J. Dicker

Copyright "Milk Stout Nitro"? Fine! Copyright "Nitro" itself? Congratulations, you have just become evil, and I'll put your name right alongside Budweiser on my boycott list.

Val N Scott Carrington
Val N Scott Carrington

everyone uses Nitrogen now to carb up darker heavier beers, not just Left Hand and not just the big boys - even homebrewers now are using it. I don't think anyone should have that patent.

bondra76
bondra76

Nitrogen is such a common use in heavy beers that to let anyone have that patent is pretty absurd. Even homebrewers have started using nitrogen along with CO2 now.

Nick Sanders
Nick Sanders

Left hand sucks, and nitro is the worst thing to ever happen to beer. Also them patenting the word nitro would be like New Belgium patenting the word amber. They are not the only brewery doing this.

Brad Holden
Brad Holden

Kickstarter legal fund? Or a Nitro party for support in the works Left Hand?

Brian Slanovich
Brian Slanovich

Wow. I'd really like to see craft beer get a win here and LH definitely deserves it. Great story dude! I love reading your stuff.

Anthony Anrig
Anthony Anrig

It's nice to see a local beer piss off three globally recognized shit tier beers and garner their attention over something so stupid. Trolling to the umpteenth degree.

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