Old Town Brewing Locks Horns with City of Portland and Big Beer

A Willamette Week article out today reveals a struggle between Portland brewer Old Town Brewing and the City of Portland over trademark and licensing rights to the city’s iconic white stag neon sign. Old Town Brewing owner Adam Milne is responding to the story and the city below, but first a little catchup: When the city of Portland purchased the sign seven years ago to keep it from being torn down, it also filed for trademarks that they have actively enforced by charging businesses both small to large to use the imagery. However, the city never licensed alcohol and wine as part of that deal and Old Town Brewing owner Adam Milne put in the time and effort to be granted that license. Now the city continues to assert dominion even though the courts have backed up Old Town Brewing for now. TRegardless, city officials have licensed the imagery to Widmer Brothers, a national brand falling under the Craft Brew Alliance portfolio partially owned by Anheuser-Busch. Widmer graciously left off the actual white stag in their label for PDX Pils but who knows if AB InBev would be so accommodating. In response to the battle now made public by the WW story, Old Town owner Adam Milne has issued the following statement.

Statement by Adam Milne of Old Town Brewing:

Portland City Government Favoring Big Beer

More and more I’ve been reading about big beer buying their way into craft beer communities. Yet I never thought it would happen before our eyes and with the help of our Portland city government.

A little background: more than a year ago the city told us they were interested in a $25,000 deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev and were having discussions with Maker’s Mark to allow them to use our trademarked logo, the leaping deer. As you can imagine, that kept us up at night.

More than five years ago, we followed every legal step of the exhausting process of trademarking the leaping deer for use in beer and alcohol. During the approval process, neither the city, their forty staff attorneys, nor their outside legal counsel challenged our trademark. We have now successfully gone through this process six times and been approved for six different trademarks incorporating the leaping deer logo. After five years of building our brand, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office now designates Old Town Brewing’s exclusive right to use the leaping deer logo in connection with beer and alcohol as having an “incontestable” status.

Even though the city is well-aware of Old Town Brewing’s trademark rights, city officials have been seeking to strike licensing deals for our trademarked logo with Anheuser-Busch InBev and other multinationals. These are beer and alcohol brands – a narrow category that our small brewery has worked so hard to build and protect.

That’s where our immediate concern comes in. If the leaping deer was to appear on labels of other alcohol brands, it could trick or confuse consumers and that would definitely hurt Old Town Brewing. That’s why trademark protections exist in the first place.

I want to state clearly that we at Old Town Pizza & Brewing have always focused on being a well- respected Portland citizen. Our heritage began more than 43 years ago in city’s oldest neighborhood, where we built a nationally recognized restaurant. In 2008, when the city asked for our help in redeveloping a challenging street others wouldn’t come to, we showed our community-building spirit by opening our second location on MLK Blvd. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished and the team we’ve created, all while making international award-winning beer.

Today we find ourselves shocked and disappointed knowing that certain city officials are spending so much taxpayer money on losing trademark efforts. All of this, to cozy up to big beer.

We don’t object to the city licensing the leaping deer for other purposes and we’ve made numerous efforts to find a solution. Yet the city continues to ignore our concerns and move forward on licensing our trademarked logo to other beer and alcohol brands. By doing so, the city (who is coincidently the main lender of our brewery loan) is favoring the interests of multinationals over its own homegrown small businesses and spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the process. We don’t think this speaks of Portland values.

If you agree and would like to help, please contact Mayor Wheeler or any of the city commissioners and let them know you want the city to stop wasting money on losing legal maneuvers that hurt local small businesses.

Cheers and thanks,

Adam Milne – Owner
Team (Tia Milne, Jordan Wilson, Joe Sanders, Andrew Lamont, Kevin Cain)

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com