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Posted on Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

Bell's Brewery files trademark infringement lawsuit after Ann Arbor grocery stocks competitor

By Lee Higgins

Galesburg-based Bell’s Brewery Inc. is alleging in a federal lawsuit that a California beverage company is infringing on its federally registered trademark by selling “Copper BELL” beer at a Whole Foods store in Ann Arbor.


Image from


Image from

Bell’s is suing Novato, Calif.-based Winery Exchange Inc. seeking a court order directing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny the company's application to trademark the "Copper BELL" name. The suit also seeks an unspecified amount of money.

Officials at the Winery Exchange could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

According to the lawsuit, attorneys for Bell’s sent a “cease and desist letter” June 27 to Winery Exchange, asking that it discontinue "its infringement of the BELL's Mark." The lawsuit alleges that the packaging for Copper BELL creates confusion for consumers. It features the word "BELL" in large letters, the lawsuit says, with "Copper" above it at roughly half the size. The lawsuit also says the packaging "features three kettles with bell shaped caps," while Bell's products "feature three bells."

The use of the Copper BELL mark is "intended to and is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception of the trade and public, and to cause the trade and the public to believe that such products are the same as Bell's products or are authorized," by Bell's, the lawsuit says. Winery Exchange has recently been selling Copper BELL at Whole Foods on Washtenaw Avenue and other stores, the lawsuit claims.

Bell's has had a federally registered trademark since 2003, the lawsuit says, and has been using its design in commerce since 1985. Bell's beer is available for purchase in 18 states and its merchandise has been sold to the public since 1985.

Download the lawsuit below:


Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for He can be reached by phone at (734) 623-2527 and email at



Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

The fact that Bell comes in a can separates them from the serious craft brewers like Larry Bell. One of the things that really started Bells on their way was that they used a wine distributer to distribute their beer. For best taste, the beer should be kept cold before its sale and the wine distributers could do that.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

Interesting. Doesn't look that similar to me. Does a brand need to be protected from a nominal consumer who really doesn't pay attention? Is Cooper Bell as big or as small as Bell's? Is ther ean intention of designing the Bell label to look similar to the Bell's? Do they compete in the same markets? (more then just Michigan). I think Bell's does great beer. Don't know Bell; but thanks to this discussion I will quickly try Bell.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:10 a.m.

Trademark law has a common law state component and a federal law component. Likelihood of confusion is the standard. According to that standard and the very obvious "BELL" for Copper Bell I would say that this is a win for Bells Kalamazoo.(they have a federally registered trademarke).


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 10:32 p.m.

I believe that Bell's Oberon used to be called Bell's Solsun until Molson sued due to the similar sounding name. What goes around comes around.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:51 p.m.

Thank you, Prometheus. I stand corrected.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 12:33 a.m.

FYI - Not Molson. I believe they were sued by a Mexican brewery who had an El Sol (The Sun) beer. They let then keep the logo but had to drop the name.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 10:25 p.m.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Not a huge Bell's fan, but that 25th Anniversary batch was pretty darn good.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 10:25 p.m.

Perhaps another "Beer Summit" at the Whitehouse will resolve this?


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 10:19 p.m.

My wife, looking over my shoulder said, "Oh, they have it in cans now?" I said, "no." About five seconds later, she said, "oh! It's a different brand?"


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:10 a.m.

Clear case of confusion....

5c0++ H4d13y

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 9:55 p.m.

I'm sure after one sip I would know that Copper Bell is not Bell's Beer.

Rob Pollard

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 9:48 p.m.

Should be an easy win for (Michigan's) Bell. The Cali group uses a similar typeface as the Michigan Bell's (all caps, serif), and even uses 3 bell towers - similar to the 3 bells on the Michigan logo. Certainly infringing.

Jimmy McNulty

Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 1:57 p.m.

I disagree. I would not confuse the two products. Also, instead of bell towers, could those be brewing vats connected by a pipe at the top?