Bandit Brewery just found out the hard way 'YYZ' is already trademarked for beer

A battle is brewing between two craft beer makers in Toronto over the use of Pearson International's airport code: YYZ. Bandit Brewery recently got a cease-and-desist letter from Amsterdam Brewing Co. for labelling a beer "YYZ → LAX."

'Just because your name is Bandit, doesn't give you the right to steal what you want,' says Amsterdam Brewery

Originally called the "YYZ → LAX," Bandit Brewery has now changed its Strawberry Vanilla Milkshake IPA to "YY*→LAX" after being slapped with a cease-and-desist order from Amsterdam Brewery Co. (Bandit Brewery website )

A battle is brewing between two craft beer makers in Toronto over the use of Pearson International's airport code: YYZ.

Bandit Brewery recently got a cease-and-desist letter from Amsterdam Brewing Co. for labelling a beer "YYZ → LAX" (the code for Los Angeles International Airport).

"Just because your name is Bandit, doesn't give you the right to steal what you want," said Amsterdam owner Jeff Carefoote.

Amsterdam Brewing Co. owner Jeff Carefoote says his company is 'tiny' compared to other international brewers and he doesn't appreciate being characterized by Bandit as a 'big brewer stomping on them.' (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

Amsterdam has three brewhouses in Toronto and started the process to trademark "YYZ" for "alcoholic brewery beverages, namely beer" in 2011.  It was officially registered in April 2017. Now, Amsterdam owns it for 15 years.

Bandit caused a stir online Monday when it tweeted about the "friendly mail" from Amsterdam and labelled the company "The Big Guys."

Carefoote was insulted initially because he said he was merely defending his intellectual property.

"[The craft brewing industry] is a bit of a fraternity," he said. "We tend not to go after each other. We tend to do things to help each other in a whole bunch of different ways, and I thought it was a very aggressive move on their part to name us and to characterize us as a big brewer stomping on them."

Bandit wouldn't do an interview, but said in a statement to CBC Toronto it has changed the beer's name to "YY*→LAX."

"Our customers have been puzzled about our apparent inability to spell YYZ, so we felt it necessary to explain the issue to them," wrote Juan M. Gonzalez-Calcaneo with Bandit Brewery. 

"We looked into challenging the trademark but unfortunately, as a small microbrewery, we simply don't have the funds or resources to fight this," he wrote.

It's not the first time Amsterdam has blocked another beer company from using "YYZ." The same saga played out in Barrie last year.

Barnstormer Brewing Co. branded a lager as "YYZ Craft Lager," but after receiving its own cease-and-desist letter from Amsterdam Brewery, Barnstormer changed the title to "First Class Craft Lager."

The mock up, left, of Barnstormer Brewing Company's 'YYZ Craft Lager,' had to be rebranded to 'First Class Craft Lager' after Amsterdam noticed the possible trademark infringement in March 2017. (Barnstormer Brewing Co. )

"You agree to the terms of the cease-and-desist; you understand that they have the rights to it but I think the larger question here is that with such a broad, far-reaching name like YYZ, it's almost like having the trademark to Toronto or beer generally," said Brad Ariss with Barnstormer.

A search on Canada's Trademark Database shows Amsterdam Brewery has trademarked a number of other Canadian airport codes including Montreal's and Calgary's, and several area codes, including 416, 905 and Montreal's 514.

'Use it or lose it' trademark laws 

Trademark Lawyer Ashlee Froese says many things you'd never imagine can be trademarked, as long as it's distinctive to a brand and helps consumers identify the brand.

"Through trademark protection, you've given a company a monopoly to use "YYZ" in association with beer, in this instance. We know that there's a burgeoning micro brewing industry in Toronto. Is it prohibitive? Is it anti-competitive to give one company exclusivity over YYZ to the exclusion of other companies?" said Froese. 

The lawyer said these are the sorts of questions the Trademarks Branch of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office would have asked prior to approving Amsterdam's request for YYZ as a trademark for beer.

Trademark lawyer Ashlee Froese says in order for companies to protect their trademarks and therefore their intellectual property rights, they must actively crack down on people using them. (Submitted: Ashlee Froese)

Canada currently has a "use it or lose" trademark law, so continued use is an important thing for brand owners to prove, she said.

"Bear in mind though, just because you have the trademark registration it doesn't mean you necessarily have the monopoly over it. It's up to the brand owner to enforce their rights to go after those who are infringing," she said.

Amsterdam said it has no specific brands called "YYZ," but they use the trademark on a handful of items such as taps and have plans to use it further. 

Amsterdam accused of bullying

The "YYZ" name of Bandit's beer dubbed a Strawberry Vanilla Milkshake IPA has caught the eye of some other small brewers and distillers. Some pointing out Amsterdam is hardly one of "The Big Guys" given other mega brewers like Molson, however others jumped to Bandit's defence, in one case accusing Amsterdam of "bullying." 

Several other social media accounts linked to micro brewers and distillers in Ontario jumped to Bandit's defence for using 'YYZ.' (Twitter)

Amsterdam may have three shops and 50 or 60 beer lines now, but the owner said a couple of decades ago they were small like Bandit, and they continue to be smaller than international beer competitors.

"We're not a big guy, we're a tiny business," said Carefoote.

"Maybe relative to them we're larger but we're certainly not in the international grand scale. We don't sell really much outside of Toronto, so I didn't appreciate how we were characterized."