Updated: TWO North Yorkshire breweries have been heavily criticised and left out of pocket after a High Court judge declared their war of the roses a “score draw”.

Mr Justice Arnold said the two “proud” and “entrenched” breweries, Samuel Smith of Tadcaster and Cropton of the North York Moors, should have resolved their dispute themselves long ago.

Instead, their trademark dispute over the use of the white rose on beer bottles went all the way to the High Court.

Issuing his ruling yesterday, Mr Justice Arnold said: “This is a case about Yorkshire pride, in more ways than one.

“The protagonists, Samuel Smith and Cropton Brewery, are two proud, independent Yorkshire breweries. There is no dispute about the quality of their respective beers.”

He added: “The dispute is one which ought to have been capable of settlement out of court a long time ago. Instead it has grown into a case which is out of all proportion to what is at stake in commercial terms.

“One explanation for this is Yorkshire pride; but I fear the English legal system bears a measure of responsibility as well.”

He added: “The legal process appears to have caused the parties to become entrenched in their positions rather than seeking common ground.”

The saga began when Cropton, based behind a pub near Pickering, began producing its Yorkshire Warrior beer in 2008, in aid of the Yorkshire Regiment Benevolent Fund for wounded soldiers.

The beer used the regiment’s cap badge, including the white rose, on its labels.

Sam Smith’s complained in June 2009 that the rose breached its own trademarked emblem, which it has used since the 1960s, and also complained about the white rose on Cropton’s Yorkshire Bitter beer, sold exclusively through Marks & Spencer.

The judge yesterday ordered Cropton not to use the white rose design on Warrior beer, but made no order for payment of damages. Each brewery must pay its own costs.

Mr Justice Arnold told lawyers, after a hearing at the High Court in London: “I think the overall result is fairly characterised as a score draw.”

He said Cropton had breached Sam Smith’s trademark, but only since October 2009, and only on its Yorkshire Warrior beer bottles.

He said they had acted fairly up until October 2009, and at all times on its Yorkshire Bitter.

Smith’s plea that the Yorkshire Warrior label fell foul of the law against “passing off” succeeded, but an identical claim in respect of the Yorkshire Bitter label failed.

He said most people would take the white rose to represent “geographical origin” rather than “the trade origin” of the beer.

Mr Justice Arnold said that in such disputes in future the possibility of mediation should be explored as soon as is practicable.

Cropton Brewery declined to comment last night, and Sam Smith’s was unavailable for comment

York Press: The Press - Comment

Who has won in War of Roses?

A modern-day War of the Roses between two Yorkshire breweries has resulted in a costly score draw.

A High Court judge said both Samuel Smith’s, of Tadcaster, and Cropton Brewery, near Pickering, had become “entrenched’” in their dispute over whether Cropton could use a white rose design on two of its beers. Samuel Smith’s claimed this was an infringement of its registered trademark.

Mr Justice Arnold ruled that Cropton had infringed Samuel Smith’s trademark rights on labels for its Yorkshire Warrior beer – but not on those for its Yorkshire bitter. “I think the overall result is fairly characterised as a score draw,” he said.

The judge then criticised both companies – and the legal system itself – for taking their dispute so far. It ought to have been settled out of court much earlier, he said, but had grown out of all proportion to what was at stake. “One explanation for this is Yorkshire pride; but I fear the English legal system bears a measure of responsibility as well.”

We agree entirely. Both Yorkshire stubbornness and Yorkshire pride played their part in ensuring this storm in a beer mug escalated out of control. But our disputatious legal system, which so often encourages confrontation, didn’t help. The result is that both breweries face hefty legal bills – and for what? This whole case should have been settled over a pint long ago.