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Texas A&M targets Washington brewer over '12th Man' trademark infringement

Texas A&M targets Washington brewer over '12th Man' trademark infringement

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Plans for a Seattle Seahawks Superbowl celebration with 12th Man beer fell flat after Texas A&M lawyers intervened to protect their trademark.

A family-owned brewery in Bothell, Wash. planned to sell "12th Man Skittles IPA" on Superbowl weekend but canceled the plans after receiving a cease-and-desist notice from A&M, which has trademarked the phrase. A&M lawyers actively police unlicensed uses of the trademark, which have increased with the Seahawks' run to the Super Bowl.

Bothell is a town of about 34,000 located about 20 miles northeast of Seattle. The brewery is operated by Jim Jamison and his family, who have full-time jobs but run the business on the side from property in a residential area. It's only open on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.

The 12th Man Skittles IPA was thought up somewhat last minute by Jamison as a way to celebrate the Seahawks' 12th man tradition and star running back Marshawn Lynch's affinity for the candy. He brewed 5.6 gallons of the beer, which isn't even a full batch, with home brew equipment.

Jamison said he can't find any evidence of Skittles-infused beer and that he was pleasantly surprised with the taste. The brew combines Maris Otter malt, Skittles for the sugar, Columbus hops for bittering and Centennial hops for the finish. The beer has 6.3 percent alcohol by volume.

The plan was to serve the specialty beer the day before the Seahawks face the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, and Jamison said he notified local beer blogs about the brew. Jamison said he was shocked when his family-run operation attracted attention from lawyers 2,200 miles away.

"We're so small, and it's such a small amount of beer," Jamison said. "Initially, when I got it I said, 'Wow. They are really serious about this and they must have all kinds of filter on any kind of media exposure to make sure there are no violations.'"

Shane Hinckley, A&M's interim vice president for marketing and communications, said A&M has employees who actively watch for trademark violations but that he didn't remember how the small brewery got on the giant university's radar. He said A&M officials have been more actively watching for trademark infringements in the last few weeks.

"The reason we send out cease-and-desist letters is to, No. 1, show we are protecting our brand, which is important in the eyes of trademark law," Hinckley said. "And No. 2 is that infringing use has the potential to dilute our brand."

Hinckley described the cease-and-desist letters as a proactive and legally necessary move. If an entity with a trademark knows about violations but does not act to stop those violations it can be seen as abandoning the trademark. Texas A&M settled out of court with the Seahawks in 2006 after suing over the use of the phrase. The NFL team pays A&M $5,000 a year to use it.

"If one company does it then everybody else thinks it's OK, and before you know it, you'll have 30 companies doing it," Hinckley said of the brewery. "You have to handle each case individually, but you're almost doing a whack-a-mole approach."

After receiving emailed and mailed cease-and-desist letters from A&M, Jamison said he immediately contacted all the media he told about the beer, informed them he was changing the name and asked they not use the trademarked phrase. However, he said A&M's lawyers' involvement only made people more interested in the beer.

"Now it's kind of out of control," Jamison said. "I have people all over the world interested in it and there's only 5.61 gallons of the beer ... To get all the hype and excitement over that little amount of beer is pretty interesting."

The beer will still be on tap Saturday, just under a different name -- "Cease & Desist IPA." Jamison said he received no other legal notices but dropped "Skittles" from the name just to be safe.

"We're going to serve it in 12-ounce glasses, going with a '12th man' theme, but we won't call it the 12th man pour," Jamison said.

Jamison is not upset about A&M's legal action and said that more than anything he is amused. He said A&M's lawyers were really nice and were satisfied with his actions to comply with their demands.

"I'm actually kind of flattered that they took any interest in me," Jamison said.

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