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Buxton and Omnipollos's Yellow Bely: beer branding intended to raise concerns about racism arround the world will have its in-tank final brew labelled "ceased and desisted"

Batemans “damaged” by Yellow Belly TM dispute, social media vitriol 

A trademark dispute that descended into abuse on social media has left Lincolnshire family brewer Batemans “damaged” according to managing director Stuart Bateman.

Batemans, which has brewed Yella Belly Gold ale for 20 years, objected to the use of the name Yellow Belly for an 11% abv stout co-produced by Buxton Brewery and Omnipollo in Sweden.

In a joint statement yesterday (7th December) Buxton and Omnipollo confirmed they would be discontinuing use of the name. While describing the two beers as “distinct and entirely different in every conceivable manner” they agree that Batemans has “a legal right to defend their intellectual property.”

Yet the case has whipped up an angry response on social media that Bateman says has “insulted the people who work at the brewery, our beer and myself.”

“One of my children has been abused and it has made a member of my family ill. We have been portrayed as a big bully trying to put another brewer out of business and prevent drinkers drinking a fantastic beer.

“I find this all quite damaging.” 

The joint statement acknowledges the backlash and says Buxton and Omnipollo “neither endorse, nor seek the kind of vitriolic ‘rage-rating’ that has appeared relating to Batemans Brewery found on some internet beer review sites. 

“Further, we would request that any be taken down or deleted as soon as possible.”

However, Omnipollo’s own Instagram post describing Batemans’ action as “unbelievable” and referring to “trademark lawyers knocking down the door” with comments from followers attacking Batemans – alongside a couple defending it - remains online.

And the statement itself, posted on social media channels by Buxton, has attracted further abuse aimed at Batemans.

The dispute began when Omnipollo contacted the Yella Belly brewer a couple of months ago to ask whether it had registered the trade mark, resulting in Batemans refusing consent for the name in the UK.

“It was immediately apparent there was absolutely no room for manoeuvre on the part of Batemans Brewery,” declares the joint statement. “The appointment of IP attorneys to act on behalf of a party precludes any possibility of amicable settlement.”

But Bateman, who said he wasn’t aware of the existence of Yellow Belly stout, launched in 2014, “until recently”, insists he sought discussion on an amicable arrangement.

“It is normal to register an objection to use of a trade mark while discussions are entered into. We have never adopted any attitude other than one of trying to discuss the matter and come to an amicable agreement.

“We used exactly the same approach with Victory Brewing Company from America and came to a very friendly and amicable agreement with them to use our branding. This is what I had hoped for in this instance.”

Buxton and Omnipollo’s lawyers, however, advised them to avoid any further direct communication.

“It does draw me to the conclusion that it is not an amicable agreement they want so much as the publicity they can gain at our expense,” added Bateman. “I do think it should be remembered in all of this that we register a brand name and therefore have the right to defend it.”

Yella Belly is a reference to a colloquial name for denizens of Lincolnshire while Yellow Belly was conceived as a result of Siren Brewing’s Rainbow Project which brought 14 brewers together for collaboration brews.

Seeking to make a political statement against the rise of racism around the world, Buxton and Omnipollo dressed their beer in a Ku Klux Klan hood and, with the words Yellow Belly, labelled the white supremacists cowards. It quickly gained a cult following in craft beer circles.

The final brew of the “peanut butter and biscuit imperial stout”, currently in tank, will carry the words “ceased and desisted.”

Trade mark disputes are becoming a regular occurrence in the brewing industry with a proliferation of new producers all looking to create a wide variety of beers.

As Buxton and Omnipollo’s joint statement reflects, “There are now over 22,000 breweries in the world. Producing a truly unique and distinct beer is becoming harder and harder.

“Naming, branding and marketing of beer is also becoming increasingly difficult. Maintaining respect for other breweries’ intellectual property rights and their hard-earned share of the market is something that all producers have a responsibility to do.”

NOTES: Buxton and Omnipollo will continue to be able to use the Yellow Belly name in the United States, where they have an agreement with a similarly named venture, Minnesota-based Sapsucker Farms Yellow Belly Cidery.

Phil Mellows
7th December 2018

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