Labatt denied ice beer slogan

As much as Labatt Breweries of Canada might want to tell consumers that 'only Labatt brews real ice beer,' it cannot.In a Feb. 23 undertaking to the Federal Court of Canada, Labatt swore that, 'pending the opposition proceedings related to ice...

As much as Labatt Breweries of Canada might want to tell consumers that ‘only Labatt brews real ice beer,’ it cannot.

In a Feb. 23 undertaking to the Federal Court of Canada, Labatt swore that, ‘pending the opposition proceedings related to ice beer in the Canadian Trademarks office,’ it will not use that specific phrase, or its French version, ‘seule Labatt peut brasser une vrai ice.’ in its advertising.

If Labatt were to disregard the undertaking, company principals could be charged with contempt of court, and, if found guilty, they could face stiff fines and imprisonment.

Labatt submitted the undertaking in order to avoid a court battle with Molson Breweries resulting from ads Labatt ran Jan. 29 in issues of Montreal’s The Gazette and La Presse.

The ads trumpeted Labatt’s newly signed ice beer licensing agreement with Coors Brewing.

Molson objected to the ads, not only because they included the advertising claim ‘only Labatt brews real ice beer,’ but also because they incorrectly stated Labatt holds registered trademarks for several ice-beer related marks not registered to the company.

Labatt has asked the trademark office to grant it registered trademarks for 59 words and phrases related to ice beer.

But the trademark applications have yet to be approved, and before that happens, trademark officials will have to be convinced the brewer invented a new brewing process, which it calls ice brewing, and a new type of beer, which it calls ice beer.

On Feb. 18, Molson applied for a court injunction prohibiting Labatt from saying it has trademarks it does not have and from publishing the specific ad claim, or similar claims, in the future.

Molson, which contends ice brewing is a generic term and is opposing the trademark applications, is trying hard to position the outcome of this latest legal set-to as a ‘significant’ victory in the on-going legal battles over ice beer.

John Macera, an Ottawa lawyer representing Molson, says ‘it is important to us that Labatt finally admitted they don’t own the trademarks.’

Macera, who specializes in intellectual property matters, adds that Molson intends to hold Labatt to the spirit of the undertaking, not just the specific wording.

If Labatt were to repeat the claim in similar wording, ‘I can tell you, we will be in court in less than five minutes,’ he says.

While Molson would appear to be the winner in this particular run-in, its victory may be a hollow one.

Paul Smith, director of public relations for Labatt, says that the copy in the ad stating Labatt held registered trademarks for the ice beer terms was an error, and the company has no difficutty in admitting as much.

As well, Smith argues that in agreeing not to repeat the offending ad claim, Labatt has merely agreed to abstain from doing something it had no intention of doing anyway.

Since the ice beer wars began, Labatt has said in the media, and in the courts, that it developed the ice beer process, but it has not done so in its advertising since it does not have the registered tradmarks to back up such a claim.

Smith says Labatt opted to make an agreement with the court rather than fight the injunction, because the matter is already being fought in the trademark office.