PORTLAND, Ore. -- One of Oregon’s largest breweries is coming to the defense of a much smaller Portland brewery. In doing so, Rogue Ales has banned Portland’s mayor and his lawyers from their local locations.
It’s the latest twist in a years-long dispute between Old Town Brewing and the city of Portland. At the center of the debate: the iconic “White Stag” logo from the neon sign alongside the Burnside Bridge.
Over five years ago, Old Town owner Adam Milne filed for a federal trademark of the White Stag logo related to beer and alcohol. The trademark was granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Stag now graces Old Town beer glasses, bottles, and merchandise.
Things took a turn a couple of years ago when Milne says he noticed that the city of Portland had applied for a similar trademark using the stag logo and the Portland sign. At the same time, he noticed a Budweiser glass that had the logo as well. Milne then met with the city to discuss his trademark where he learned that city officials were attempting to license the logo.
“At that meeting, the city let us know that they were in talks with Anheuser-Busch InBev and Makers Mark. That kept us up at night. It was very concerning for us,” he said.
According to Milne, the city has applied for a trademark using the stag logo several times, but has been denied.
“Not only does the city continue to operate its licensing program unabated, threatening legal action against businesses and artists who use the image without paying up, the city has spent a lot of money – estimated between $50,000 and $100,000 – in a losing effort to expand its federal trademarks,” said Daniel Keeney, a spokesman for Old Town.
Over the weekend, Rogue Ales and Spirits stepped up to support Old Town in a big way. In a letter posted online, Rogue president Al Jorgensen expressed the company’s support for Old Town saying, “We have no patience for those at City Hall who want to foolishly and unduly harass a fellow independent craft brewer regarding a trademark they own.” Jorgensen went on to state that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, city lawyers, and “bureaucrats” were banned from the company’s Portland locations “until this nonsensical dispute propagated by the city is abandoned and a formal apology and explanation are issued.”
“We felt like they were standing up for the little guy. It was really cool,” said Milne of the ban. “They took it to the highest level.”
In a series of tweets posted Monday afternoon, Michael Cox, a spokesman for Wheeler, said that the city had never contested Old Town’s logo. “They have all the rights and privileges to their use their logo as they see fit. This is about Portland’s ability to use the iconic Portland Sign to promote our city’s brand,” Cox tweeted. “The Mayor has directed his bureaus to fashion a ‘BEER-XIT’ to resolve the kerfuffle over the use of similar logos by the City of Portland and Old Town Brewing with the direct engagement of his office.”
Cox added that the city isn’t in talks with Anheuser-Busch to use any parts of the Portland sign. “They used [the logo] without the city's permission,” tweeted Cox.
Milne, meanwhile, says Old Town has attempted to work with the city to resolve the issue, but has been met with pushback. “We just feel like, let’s stop and let’s come to a resolution. But we aren’t seeing any indication of that yet,” Milne said. “Customers recognize our brand with the deer. We just don’t want to see it on a bottle of Budweiser.”