I don’t have a strong side on this whole Camden-versus-Redwell Hells thing really. Trademarks piss me off – I’m basically a communist at heart and ownership of words/”brands” irritates me. Also, Camden “has form” for being a bully about them. But brands and brand-defence are an unavoidable part of the business world, like it or not it is the commercial reality. Camden’s actions are “understandable” – if not always in-line with craft beer chumminess. The Camden BearD incident is being remembered in the current context and is counting strongly against Camden in the court of public opinion. I’d try to put this aside and look at the current situation in isolation.
Anyway… I thought I’d assemble in one place my thoughts and observations from the day. Here it is. I tried to be neutral but have failed… both sides have displayed an element of childishness & general arseholery… or perhaps just hasty emotive decision making. (I advised myself against writing this post… but I never listen to anyone.)
Trademark filings & timelines…
I don’t know what Camden’s full history for trying to trademark ‘Hells’ is but in this specific instance and time the trademark seems to have been filed defensively. It was filed as part of the process of realising the brand was “in danger”. Would they have done it without the motivation of a Redwell-copycat? Possibly… will they actually be granted the trademark? Who knows. Gut feeling is that it seems pretty tenuous given it is so very similar to the name of the style ‘helles’ – then again there are far far sillier trademarks in force out there. Trademarks do not adhere to such logic.
I fact they filed not one but two similar claims – covering minor variations in text & graphics. In a similar vein to the Camden filing I’d guess Redwell’s trademark filing was a defensive legal move. They’ve probably spent some money on product development & branding so they’d be keen to be able to continue to use it. A problem I have is that Camden’s post implies that Redwell tried to trademark ‘Hells’ – my search of the UK trademarks site does not show this as being quite accurate:
It looks like Redwell have filed to trademark their branding… which happens to include the word Hells. This is a bit different and blunts the impact of Camden’s argument slightly. That said… there is a certain similarity to the name of the beer, if not the presentation:
Redwell has previously filed a trade mark for their brewery name/logo ‘REDWELL‘ and has very recently filed two more claims for ‘REDWELL IPL‘ and ‘REDWELL IPL INDIA PALE LAGER‘. They seem to have gone a bit trademark-happy. A bit odd coming from folk who published this in their defence:
Camden on the other hand has no other trademark filings I can find – only that for ‘Hells’.
Is “Hells” a common spelling of “Helles”?
The data on the web, through the lens of Google is very much on Camden’s side in the argument over whether or not ‘Hells’ in the world of beer is a Camden brand or a synonym for ‘hells’ the style of beer. Check these Google searches:
- “hells” “lager” - 100% of the first two pages of Google results is about Camden Hells
- “hells” “beer” – 16 of the top-20 results are Camden Hells related.
- “hells” “helles” – less clear cut, only 9 out of the first 20 results are Camden Hells related.
(To try and keep my results “clean” I did these searches using Chrome’s “Incognito” mode.)
OK – but perhaps Camden just have crack-hot SEO experts. What comes up if we remove Camden?
- “hells” “lager” -“Camden” – results are a bit junky, still some stuff about Camden, a few things that are clearly typos or spellos, a few actual beers though. US or Antipodean brews or homebrew. I’ve not closely examined all these results – but an eye-balling of the first 5 pages gives a strong impression that ‘hells’ is not common.
But hey, we’re being told that in Germany “dropping the ‘e'” isn’t uncommon. Two Germanophiles say this isn’t so.
@ale_is_good during the significant portion of my life spent boozing in Germany, never heard anyone say Hells. Not a beer style.
— Ben Brogden (@ben_brg) September 10, 2014
@ale_is_good It isn't at all. Helles or hell but not hells. Not even in dialect
— robsterowski (@robsterowski) September 10, 2014
A couple of blokes on Twitter are hardly definitive of course, however Google searches locked to ‘.de’ similarly don’t agree…
- “hells” “bier” -“angels” -“camden” site:.de – well, how good’s your German? I’ll leave this one as an exercise for the reader. (‘Angels’ removed otherwise it is just a large number of results about Hells Angels!)
The spelling for the style of beer is very clearly either ‘hell’ or ‘helles’ and only ‘hells’ due to misunderstanding, misspelling, or jokey beer names usually not from Germany. There’s a UK one from Abbeydale in fact. The funny thing is that Germans do know how to spell German words oddly enough, it also helps that the German pronunciation for “helles” would not map onto the spelling “hells” (as far as I am aware). It’d be like saying “larger” is a common synonum for “lager”. The whole ‘hells’ != ‘helles’ thing is backed up by many beer references…
— broadfordbrewer (@broadfordbrewer) September 10, 2014
It is also worth browsing RateBeer and Untapped to get a feel for the reality that ‘hells’ as a beer name is pretty rare, rarer still as a name for a helles or lager.
This ‘hells’ is a not-uncommon synonym for ‘helles’ argument is bunk and should be dropped by Redwell, it won’t do them any favours.
The meat of the issue: Is Redwell’s ‘Hells’ a copy of Camden’s ‘Hells’?
I find it hard to believe there is no relationship between these two beer names. Redwell is based in Norwich – in East Anglia. They firmly place themselves in the ‘craft’ sector – so much so the they put ‘craft’ in their beer name (shudder). Camden beers, especially the Hells and Pale Ale are widely distributed throughout East Anglia. (I’ve often grumbled about this in fact… bars put on an unchanging line-up of Camden Helles & Meantime Lager and think they’ve “gone craft”.) The name ‘Hells’ in a beery context is very much associated with Camden in this region – amongst anyone who’s interested in good beer at any rate. On top of that the styles of these two beers are the same, even the ABV is the same… at this point it starts to look like a BrewDogesque publicity fishing expedition hinging on the idea that nobody likes a bully.
From the start I’d just hoped that somebody basically just couldn’t spell ‘helles’, knew shit all about beer, and had made a daft marketing decision. Currently leaning to thinking ‘not so sure’.
To me it is boiling down to:
Is it “right” to release a beer called “Hells” in the belief that “Hells” is a word that ought not _belong_ to a single company given its generic-seeming nature. Fighting your own “good fight” against “the man”…. or is it just pedantry, headline-whoring, and an act of everyday arseholery?
I kind of want to pick both sides here as I have sympathies either way… but dunno, it will be interesting to see where this goes. Gauntlets have been thrown and it is going to be lawyers at dawn.
Secondary to this: what is wrong with just spelling bloody ‘helles’ correctly people? Or ‘hell’ even? Pint of “Hell Craft Lager Beer” anyone? Personally I don’t give a toss about the ‘hells’, ‘helles’, ‘hell’ part of the name… but it could do without the “craft lager beer” bollocks. If you put “craft” in the actual name of a beer you’re doing it wrong. Leave that sort of idiocy to the marketing monkeys at Marstons and Greene King.
[Update 2014-09-14: SEE ALSO: The Brewery That Cried Hells - personally I find my own bias is swinging towards Camden in this matter. As a drinker I'm not a particularly keen fan of Camden or their beers, nor their past trademark actions, nor their origin fudging (are they still guilty of this?)... but Redwell just need to grow up a bit.]