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Brewery trademark battle may have bittersweet ending

Two breweries that nearly found themselves pitted against each other in a trademark lawsuit may soon make amends in the spirit of brotherly beermaker love, but also out of mutual gain.

Victory Brewing Company, based out of Pennsylvania, suffered a bit of public relations damage when its lawyers gave the local Waynesville brewery, formerly known as Headwaters Brewing, two choices: change its name or operate under a legal agreement that would restrict its expansion.

Kevin Sandefur, a co-owner of the Waynesville brewery, chose undergo a name change to Bearwaters Brewing to avoid a conflict with Victory, which had trademarked the name Headwaters for one of its most popular beers, a pale ale.

Victory president and founder, Bill Covaleski, thought the two companies had settled the matter and filed it away as a hard lesson for Sandefur in trademark law and diligence due to the Headwaters Pale Ale trademark by Victory. But after the name change went public, Covaleski noticed the tide of public opinion turning against him, at least the public opinion that posts on Twitter and Facebook.

“In terms of smearing, it kind of began there,” Covaleski said. “Social media is very knee-jerk.”

There were numerous postings online from people swearing off Victory’s beer and accusing the larger Pennsylvania brewery of bullying the smaller Bearwaters into a name change. In a previous article in The Smoky Mountain News, Sandefur was quoted as saying that Victory didn’t come out with the Headwaters name until January 2012.

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In all, Covaleski felt slighted. Especially since he has documentation showing he came up with the name for his pale ale as far back as 2010. Although Sandefur claims to have come up with it even sooner — in 2009 — Covaleski felt like his company was being accused of stealing the name Headwaters.

“That’s one thing that made people sharpen the pitch forks and light the torches,” Covaleski. “It was not true — in fact came up with the name around the same time.”

Furthermore, both companies have a connection to the Headwaters name — Victory Brewing is located just down stream from the headwaters of Brandywine Creek while Sandefur’s brewery is located in Haywood County, out of which all water flows.

But now Covaleski is extending his hand to Sandefur in to have the breweries cooperate in some type of beer-related project. Covaleski wants to show the area that his brewery – which brewed 93,000 barrels last year compared with Sandefur’s 120 — that he is not the big bad wolf. He has had several ideas, such as a collaborative beer project.

Meanwhile, Sandefur said he is open to suggestions and could especially use some help paying for the cost of changing over all his pint glasses, coasters and t-shirts to the new name. He added that, as a gesture of friendliness, he put one of Victory’s beers on tap in his tasting room in Waynesville — although it was not the Headwaters Pale Ale.

“Some of my patrons were coming in fired up and saying, ‘Screw them,’” Sandefur said. “But that’s not the culture we want to have here.”

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