UPDATED at 9:58 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 12: Original Gravity Brewing Co. owner Mark Sancho posted the following statement on the brewery’s Facebook page:
Thank you for the many messages (both naughty and nice!), regarding our current trademark “dispute”. I am glad to inform everyone that Kevin from Final Gravity Brewing Company and myself are currently working things out with ease. It does not involve any “suing” and will be a mutual agreement that really does not take any drastic measures. Reading all of the legal documents and newspaper articles really make things seem much worse than they actually are. Admittedly though, things went a bit further than both of us would have liked. The legal process, and in particular trademark protection, can be very complicated and frustrating. Trust me, all that the both of us want to do is focus on making great beer and running successful businesses. Thanks again for the messages and for supporting MI beer!
Brad Sancho – owner/brewer
The complaint, filed on Jan. 6 in the United States Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and which you can read here, says the similarity in brewery names creates confusion to customers. Brad Sancho is the owner and head brewery of Original Gravity, which opened in 2008. Final Gravity, which is owned by the father-and-son duo of Mike and Kevin Christensen (pictured above), opened in July, 2014. The Christensens bought Patchwork Brewing Co. and renamed it.
The complaint states, “While attending the 2015 Michigan Summer Beer Festival, Original Gravity received multiple inquiries and/or statements from consumers who were confused as to the source, origin, and/or sponsorship of Original Gravity beers, or whether there was an association, affiliation, or connection between Original Gravity and Final Gravity.”
The suit says Final Gravity is to change its name and is required to pay to Original Gravity all damages sustained by reason of trademark infringement in a “sum equal to three times the damages sustained by reason of such wrongful acts”; be ordered to “deliver for destruction within seven (7) days of the date of entry of the final judgment herein any and all of Final Gravity’s beer or alcohol products bearing the Final Gravity logos and/or marks,” and “recall from the stream of commerce any and all Final Gravity’s beer or alcohol products bearing the Final Gravity logos and/or marks,” among other items.
Original Gravity Brewing Co. trademarked the name in 2011, according to the complaint. Final Gravity Brewing Co. is not trademarked, according to co-owner Kevin Christensen.
As noted in the Brewbound article, brewers or those in the industry may know the difference in the terms, but the general public may not.
BeerAdvocate.com defines “original gravity” as “a measurement of the density of fermentable sugars in a mixture of malt and water with which a brewer begins a given batch,” while “final specific gravity” is the “specific gravity of a beer when fermentation is complete (that is, all fermentable sugars have been fermented).”
Kevin Christensen, co-owner of Final Gravity, said he called Brad Sancho of Original Gravity three or four months after Final Gravity opened to talk about the possibility of collaborating on a beer together. Christensen said Sancho asked about whether or not he researched his name and then the conversation “went completely sour.” Christensen said he received a cease and desist order in July.
“It’s kind of discouraging, “Christensen said on Tuesday. “The whole (brewing) community has been so supportive and then this happens.
“I’d rather get a phone call than papers served.”
Messages left Tuesday afternoon for Brad Sancho have not been returned.
Scott Graham, president of the Michigan’s Brewers Guild, which represents most of Michigan’s more than 200 breweries, said owners of trademarks are required to protect their intellectual property. As more breweries and more beer names populate the industry, the room for confusion is growing. Graham said this is the first such dispute involving two Michigan breweries to his knowledge.
“We will see more of this,” Graham said of the complaint.
Trademark disputes have made headlines recently, including those between Bell’s Brewery Inc. and Innovation Brewing Co., of North Carolina, and between White Flame Brewing Co., of Hudsonville, Mi., and Three Floyds Brewing Co., of Munster, Ind.