Conservative Craft Brewing? - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Conservative Craft Brewing?

Conservative Craft Brewing?

Schlaflys divided over use of the family name

The name Schlafly evokes very different things for distinct groups of people. And that’s exactly the point.

Phyllis Schlafly, an extremely vocal conservative activist who is (in)famous for opposing feminism, the Equal Rights Amendment, same-sex marriage, and a slew of other hot-button issues, is now embroiled in a legal battle with her nephew, Tom Schlafly, co-founder of the Schlafly Brewing Company. Schlafly Brewing applied for a federal trademark for use of the Schlafly name in 2011. Phyllis Schlafly filed an opposition with the USPTO in September of 2012, and as of today, a settlement still has not been reached.

Trademarks are traditionally used to distinguish and identify a brand name. Tom Schlafly argues that the brewery has been in operation since 1991, and that since that time neither Phyllis, nor her two sons who have joined in opposition, Andy and Bruce, have indicated any discord with the use of the Schlafly name. Andy, an attorney representing his mother in this matter, and Bruce, a physician who further argues that an association with a beer company is hurting his professional image, posit that one cannot trademark a celebrity’s last name, which is what Tom is trying to do.  Further, in their opposition to the trademark application, Phyllis and Andy argue that “Schlafly,” aside from being a last name, has for years been associated with conservative values, a fact that cannot be reconciled with the use of “Schlafly” to sell beer.

This fundamental difference in outlook and purpose, however, seems to be precisely the point. Anyone familiar with Phyllis Schlafly as a political figure and activist is unlikely to associate her with a craft brewing company. Likewise, those invested in the success of Schlafly brewing are not going to assume that it comes bottled with a side of political conservatism (or if they do, they care more about the craft beer).  There is also something to be said about the fact that Schlafly has been brewing and selling their beer for over twenty years without objections from the conservative Schlaflys.

Either way, the trademark battle for Schlafly brewing might just be getting started. Anheuser-Busch recently filed for an extension in which to file an opposition to the trademark application. Their issue is not so much with the Schalfly name as it is with the use of “The Saint Louis Brewing Company” tag as part of the trademark. Anheuser-Busch has until April 9th to file an opposition, and there’s no comment yet from the company to indicate if they actually will. Phyllis, however, seems keen to keep up her fight against Schlafly brewing’s trademark. Here’s hoping your family gatherings aren’t as awkward as the Schlafly’s! Cheers!

Amy Mittelman

Amy Mittelman is a second year Fordham law student and a staff member on IPLJ. Her interest in IP traces all the way back to those nights when she pretended to be asleep, but was actually reading books under the covers with a flashlight. Prior to law school, Amy worked in publishing, where she could take her love of the written word out from under the covers and into the daytime.