A few months back, we reported on the “Slow Ride” brewery trademark dispute involving New Belgium in Colorado and Oasis in Texas. The gist is, New Belgium filed a lawsuit in Colorado seeking clarification of its geographic rights to “Slow Ride.” Both breweries had a beer by the name, New Belgium had filed for a trademark, but the Texas brewery had sold some beer under the name before New Belgium filed for the trademark. You can review our basic notes on the case here.
Today, we have an update. It’s a bit of a nerdy procedural one, but for any non-J.D. onlookers, it’ll help make sense of what happened. A Colorado judge has dismissed the case (Here’s a link to the judge’s order). The dismissal, though, doesn’t mean the dispute is over. Parties to a lawsuit typically seek to file the lawsuit near their home court, so they don’t have to go prosecute a lawsuit in another state. Here, New Belgium filed in Colorado. Importantly, though, the legal system does not allow a company to sue just anywhere it pleases. There is a requirement that the defendant have a sufficient connection to the state to make holding the lawsuit there just. I’ll note that any law students reading this have just cringed, recalling first year Civil Procedure discussions about what’s known as Personal Jurisdiction. In any event, due process requires that the defendant have sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state such that the maintenance of the suit in that forum does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. (Thanks, Professor Cooper.)
A lot of money can be spent about whether there’s personal jurisdiction to support the lawsuit, and that’s what happened here. A judge has not gotten to the merits of the trademark dispute at all. A Colorado judge merely found that Oasis did not have a sufficient enough connection to Colorado to hold the lawsuit there. What kinds of connections did New Belgium allege that Oasis had to Colorado, to support holding the lawsuit there? Attending the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado, and then also sending cease and desist letters to New Belgium in the state. These weren’t enough to make it just to hail an out-of-state brewery into Colorado federal court.
So, where do we stand? No doubt, New Belgium’s filing of the declaratory judgment action was a maneuver to avoid having to deal with a lawsuit in Texas, which would be on Oasis’s home court. Moreover, and most likely, it was also filed to hopefully spur (Texas pun initially unintended) this lawsuit into settlement. Both parties have made public statements that they’re interested in settling. But, it’s a slow ride indeed. We’ll see what happens, and report back when we know more.