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Bell’s Founder Responds to Heavy Criticism Over Trademark Dispute

Founder Larry Bell says he hasn't forgotten his roots as a small craft brewer.

In the 1990s Bell's settled a trademark dispute that forced the company to change their signature beer's name from Solsun to Oberon.
In the 1990s Bell's settled a trademark dispute that forced the company to change their signature beer's name from Solsun to Oberon.
Facebook/Bell's

Over the past several days, Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo has received heavy criticism from fans and craft beer enthusiasts over its handling of a trademark dispute with North Carolina startup Innovation Brewing. Until today, Bell's founder Larry Bell has remained largely silent on the matter, although vice president Laura Bell addressed the issue on the company's Facebook page Thursday morning. MiBiz's Brian Edwards published an interview with Larry Bell today regarding the issue. Since the Asheville Citizen-Times report on Tuesday, people on social media have expressed outrage and anger towards Bell, organized petitions, and Edwards reports that some bars have even shut down their Bell's taps.

Bell expresses his concern over the public's strong negative reaction to what he regards as a standard business practice. The craft beer industry isn't a stranger to trademark disputes. MiBiz even notes that Bell's was forced to change the name of their beer from Solsun to Oberon in the '90s.

"I've been going through this for a lot of years," he says. "Trademarks are a complicated part of the law. If you don't defend it, you lose it. And we've got a lot of equity invested in our marks ... trucks painted with our slogan, advertising, packaging."

Bell claims his company initially offered Innovation Brewing settlement options, but alleges Innovation countered with "an exorbitant, six-figure settlement." Since then, both sides have lawyered up, but Bell clarifies that they're not suing, merely opposing Innovation's federal trademark.

"A lot of people are online asking me if I've forgotten my roots," he tells MiBiz. "I have not forgotten my roots. I've worked extremely hard, beginning in the early days of craft beer."

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