Breaking Steam
November 29, 2010 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Is there a viable way to break Anchor's trademark lockdown of "Steam" style ale?

While Anchor's Steam is seen as a decent beer, their trademark of the name 'Steam' has quashed the style "steam" from commercial ventures.

I know of at least one FoF who's startup brewery, dedicated to Steam style ale, was kicked to death by Anchor's litigation.

In theory could a court case break a trademark? In practice is that even remotely viable?

posted by edgeways to Law & Government (11 answers total)
Just call it California Common Beer and be done with it.
posted by dfriedman at 4:41 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you don't consider this responsive, then let the mods know, but: the style of beer itself is alive and well and is widely referred to as "California Common beer." Google that phrase and you can find recipes, suggested yeasts, reviews, and tons of other stuff. Your friends don't need to use the trademark to make and sell the style of beer.
posted by rkent at 4:42 PM on November 29, 2010

I'd think the hardest part about breaking it is that there is an industry accepted term for the style of beer: California Common Beer. The legal aspects would almost certainly be to break the industry term; i.e. Steam Beer is a type of beer, not a brand of beer, the second would be to have the cash to fight Anchor in court. Theoretically it is possible when you have 12 jurors deciding such things.

Definitely not a lawyer.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:42 PM on November 29, 2010

According to wikipedia, the style is officially called "Modern California common beer". So, as long as the brewery doesn't use the word "Steam" in the name, then it shouldn't be a problem.
posted by inigo2 at 4:42 PM on November 29, 2010

Don't include the word "steam" in the name?

This wiki link mentions other brewerys making steam beer also known as California common beer if I'm reading the article right.
posted by Max Power at 4:44 PM on November 29, 2010

Just FWIW, Steam Whistle is a modestly popular Ontario beer. (It is a pilsener; I mention, noting the 'doesn't use steam in the name' part, just for entertainment purposes)
posted by kmennie at 4:53 PM on November 29, 2010

Best answer: A viable way to break Anchor's trademark... ?

Yes, by litigating a case with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the US Patent and Trademark Office.
posted by gyusan at 5:25 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can try to litigate such a case, but that probably isn't "viable" since your chance of prevailing is damned near zero. You would have to make a case that the term "steam beer" had become generic -- and it hasn't.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:35 PM on November 29, 2010

You would have to make a case that the term "steam beer" had become generic -- and it hasn't.

In fairness, steam beer was a generic term for over a century before Anchor Brewing trademarked it in the 80's. McTeague wasn't going down to the Anchor bewpub to buy his steam beer.
posted by dersins at 5:59 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did they trademark "steam" as a brewery name, or the name of an actual beer style? Could you put steam into the name as a product description? As in, "Dave's Steam Beer Brewery"? McDonalds can't claim ownership of the word "hamburger," so I'm free to use that term, but they can claim Big Mac as a type of hamburger.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:23 PM on November 29, 2010

Response by poster: CPB you cannot advertise your beer as being Steam style, or have the name Steam in your (beer) product. And yeah, as dersins pointed out the crux of the problem is steam was considered a generic term, say like larger or ale, until Anchor trademarked it. I consider it a blown call by the US trademark office and was curious how that can be reversed.

I didn't know about the California Common Beer workaround, and that is better than nothing at all, but it also seems unwieldy. Ah well, thanks for the replies.
posted by edgeways at 5:28 AM on November 30, 2010

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