Bad Apple Brewhouse hasn't been able to sell its suds outside Nova Scotia since late last year after being hit by a trademark dispute with a small Ontario company in November 2015 — two years after the Kings County craft brewery sold its first batch of beer.
"It was a real blow to my heart because I'm a one-man operation that started out really tiny," said Jeff Saunders, Bad Apple Brewhouse's owner.
Saunders registered his business name in the provincial registry in 2012. Two years later, a man in rural Ontario named Jason Ingram filed a federal trademark search for Bad Apple Brewing Company Ltd. — a fermenting-on-site business where beer and cider are made so that customers don't have to do it in their own homes.
In November 2015, Ingram emailed Saunders.
"I definitely wouldn't want to create animosity in the industry," Ingram told CBC News.
"But there's no trademark police out there making sure that your intellectual property is being protected or not misused. You have to do that yourself."
'You have to have a stiff upper lip'
After getting that email, Saunders had to turn down a 550 litre beer order from the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation. He's been unable to fill any orders from outside Nova Scotia since then.
Saunders visited Ingram in Ontario and was given the options of buying the trademark for over $100,000, renting it or not using the Bad Apple name for sales outside Nova Scotia.
"I don't think that once you get a trademark you go around flexing your muscles and trying to upset people, but you're going to end up stepping on a few toes," Ingram said. "You have to have a stiff upper lip."
Saunders returned to Nova Scotia and consulted a lawyer. They concluded Ingram "hadn't done anything legally wrong."
The workaround: Bad Apple Brewhouse will incorporate its assets into a new company called Mosaic — a name Saunders also gave his double IPA, brewed for charity in honour of his son who was born with Mosaic Down Syndrome.
"I don't like the confusion surrounding it," he said. "On the other hand, I'm proud of what that Mosaic brewing logo and the beer and the ideas stand for. It's mixed emotions, for sure."
A brewing problem
Bad Apple Brewing Company Ltd. in Ontario cut its trademark teeth when it took on Molson Coors over the tagline, "How do ya like them apples?"
A Molson Coors spokesperson confirmed it had conversations with Ingram over the tagline, but the dispute never came to a lawsuit or legal agreement.
"It was educational, that's for sure," said Ingram, who's owned that trademark since 2012.
Josh Counsil, co-owner of Halifax's Good Robot Brewing Company, says the problem is growing in Canada and south of the border, likely due to the number of craft breweries that develop from casual home-brew operations.
In Halifax, North Brewing — formerly known as Bridge Brewing — avoided a legal dispute by changing its name in 2014 after being contacted by another brewer in British Columbia.
Stack Brewing in Sudbury, Ont. went so far as to make an anniversary beer called Trademark Infringement following issues with Moosehead.
"Anybody who's going through this type of thing, I just want to say that treat everybody with respect and make sure you're doing everything for the right reasons," Ingram said.
Saunders, who brews on his property in Somerset, will continue to sell his product under the Bad Apple Brewhouse name within Nova Scotia. He hopes to have Mosaic Brewing Company completely set up by the end of next month.
"Anybody that knows me knows how small my business really is and how small it really started — it's very disappointing to see this happen," he said.