The stage has been set for a trademark showdown between world famous rock band Guns N’ Roses and a craft brewery from Colorado.
Canarchy Craft Brewery Collective, operating under the name Oskar Blues, filed an application for a trademark in August of 2018 covering a new beer they developed, a rosé ale made from prickly pear and hibiscus. Because of the inclusion of hibiscus the ale has a pinkish tint, hence, the classification as a rosé ale. Oskar Blues’ marketing of the product, the rosé ale, brought them into the sights of Guns n’ Roses. Choosing a familiar looking font and selecting the name “Guns ‘N’ Rosé”, the can bears quite a strong resemblance to the logo of a certain, fairly recognizable, rock band. At least, that is what Guns N’ Roses is saying. The band objected to the trademark within a few months of the application, and also sent a cease and desist letter.
Here is where the battle begins. Guns N’ Roses has a trademark that covers clothing, musical sound recordings, and musical performances. What it does not cover, as Oskar Blues argues, is alcoholic beverages. According to the letter sent in response to the cease and desist, Oskar Blues believes that there is little risk of there being any sort of consumer confusion between the beer and the band.
By February 2019, Oskar Blues, assuming that the matter was taken care of with their response letter, began to manufacture and sell not only the beer itself but also some associated merchandise. Guns N’ Roses, apparently disagreeing with Oskar Blues’ assessment, sent another letter to Oskar Blues that demanded the cessation of production and sales.
The brewery offered to cease producing and selling the beer but requested that they be allowed to continue until March 2020, citing the lack of response from Guns N’ Roses. Oskar Blues said that they had begun to manufacture the product under the assumption that the matter was settled and any repackaging or rebranding of the beer would require time and effort to rectify. Guns N’ Roses objected to this and filed their lawsuit.
What are the legal issues involved in the case? There is of course the general principle that if you own a trademark, you have to protect it. Guns n’ Roses claims that its trademarked name has reached such notoriety and fame that it is entitled to protection from dilution under the Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006. This is a potential motivation for the lawsuit. The concern that consumers may view the beer and think that it is somehow endorsed or produced by the band, due to the similar font and name. Oskar Blues argues that the trademark only covers clothing, musical sound recordings, and musical performances, short of covering alcoholic beverages. Though the trademark itself does not cover alcoholic beverages, Guns N’ Roses argues that the beer still qualifies as a trademark infringement. To prove this, Guns N’ Roses points towards the various awards the band has earned over the years, million record sales they have accrued, and their introduction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Oskar Blues, of course, argues that no such protection is necessary for Guns N’ Roses, as the famous mark protections are only granted in extraordinary circumstances.