It seems like not a week can go by without some silly trademark dispute in the alcohol industries. This latest example comes to us from Ireland and provides a vivid demonstration for why trademarks ought to only be granted on unique and original names and not, say, on a mark based on common geography.
Leo Mansfield of the Connemara region of Ireland opened a storefront business and called it "Conn O'Mara" after the titular fictional character he created as something of a mascot for the store. He registered the name "Conn O'Mara" as a trademark in 2009, as well as the logo for the Conn O'Mara character he created. All of this is perfectly original stuff, a fun and fictionalized nod to the Irish region where the storefront is located. In 2015, however, Mansfield decided to release a line of craft beer through the store as well and filed for a trademark on the name and logo to be used on his brews. Beam Suntory, headquartered in Chicago with two distilleries in Ireland, filed a notice of opposition to Mansfield's trademark, claiming that it has a registered mark for "Connemara" for the liquor marketplace.
Cooley Distillery claimed that products under the ‘Conn O’Mara’ mark could be confused with its own Connemara Irish whiskey products.
“I am appalled by the idea that Cooley Distillery would attempt to trademark ‘Connemara’,” Mansfield said in his counter statement seen by The Spirits Business. “Connemara is the world renowned geographical area of outstanding natural beauty in which I live and do business. If Cooley Distillery’s intent is to stifle local commercial activity and deny the use of the geographical name of the area to goods and services from the area, then I am outraged.”
And with good reason. Mansfield's trademark is original, a fictional character and name that playfully serves as an homage to the region. Beam Suntory's mark, however, is the name of the region. Even putting aside my personal crusade to get the trademark offices of the world to recognize that the beer, wine, and liquor marketplaces are distinct enough to deserve their own trademarks, allowing a major industry to lock up a trademark for a name that is a geographic area is just plain silly. It's not original, it's not distinctive, and it treads on all of the other existing and potential businesses within that geographic area.
It seems some of the locals in Connemara are on Mansfield's side.
Mansfield told The Spirits Business he decided to “go public” with his point of view now because he was “fed up” with the lengthy process. He added that local bars have decided to get behind him “and will be contacting the reps”.
Now, Beam Suntory is a huge company, but it still can't be worth the PR hit and the local patronage of these Connemara businesses to fight a storefront shop with a unique name and fictional character.