Beer wars: Grey Sail and Full Sail face off

Bottles and cans and just clap your hands
By LOU PAPINEAU  |  June 21, 2012

Full Sail is a craft brewing company in Hood River, Oregon, about 60 miles east of Portland just below the Canadian border. Grey Sail is a craft brewing company in Westerly. Full Sail was founded 25 years ago; it is the 20th largest craft brewer and the 29th largest brewery in the US. It has three core brews, a quartet of seasonal releases, and a separate line of Session lagers, and is available in 29 states (including Rhode Island). The fledgling Grey Sail produced its first batches of beer last November and has been well received; its Flagship Ale and new Flying Jenny Extra Pale Ale is available in stores and on tap in Rhode Island and the Connecticut shore.

When news broke last week that Full Sail had contacted Grey Sail over trademark infringement involving the name and branding imagery, the initial reaction was: Huh? Why was the big company picking on the little company, especially in an industry overflowing with overlapping names and happily coexisting companies: Flying Dog, Flying Fish, Dogfish, Sea Dog, Laughing Dog; High & Mighty, High Noon, High Point; Mad River, Russian River, Snake River, etc., etc. (plus shelves crammed with Hoptimum, Hoptimus, Hoptical Illusion, et al). And would anyone really confuse Full Sail's bottles, with their stylized sail logo, with the less fanciful boat imagery on the Grey Sail cans?

But, you know, nothing is simple.

Here's the timeline: Full Sail contacted Jennifer Brinton, Grey Sail's owner, in April to discuss their concerns and request that Grey Sail change its name. Brinton (and her husband Alan) filed a suit against Full Sail in Providence's US District Court, maintaining that there is no infringement; the hearing is slated for June 27, and it may be a year or more before a ruling is issued.

Trademark infringement is based on likelihood of confusion, including some of these specifics: strength of the mark; proximity of the goods; similarity of the mark; evidence of confusion; and likelihood of product line expansion (Grey Sail have their sights on New England, New York, and New Jersey). Yeah, it's an eye-of-the-beholder thing; look at the logos on this page and make your own decision re: the similarity of the images.

Irene Firmat, the CEO and founder of Full Sail, told me they contacted Brinton in an attempt to resolve the matter rather than getting the legal folks involved (she also pointed out that Full Sail has never been sued before). Grey Sail maintains that they were given an ultimatum and, as Alan told me in an email, filed a suit "to protect our right to use the word 'sail' in our name. Grey Sail firmly believes both companies can, as they currently do, successfully coexist." They also think the word is as shareable as the "dog" and "flying" and "high" and "river" that are shared by other brands. When I asked Firmat about the ubiquity of said words, she noted that she didn't know the specifics of the agreements between those companies and reasserted that "it's not good for either side" to have any confusion.

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  Topics: Liquid , Beer, Grey Sail
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