Craft Beer and the Rising Tide Effect: An Empirical Study of Sharing and Collaboration Among Seattle's Craft Breweries

23 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 355-423 (Forthcoming)

70 Pages Posted: 30 May 2019

See all articles by Zahr Said

Zahr Said

University of Washington - School of Law

Date Written: May 6, 2019


This qualitative empirical research project studies Seattle’s craft brewing industry as a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem that displays widespread collaboration and innovation. Drawing on data collected in 22 face-to-face formal interviews conducted with industry participants, the Article explores the community’s attitudes, practices, and norms with respect to collaboration and intellectual property (IP). It joins a growing body of qualitative empirical IP scholarship that maps misalignments between law and practice “on the ground,” seeking to offer a more accurate and pluralistic account of an innovative industry. The craft brewing community in Seattle cooperates extensively while continuing to compete actively for consumers. In service of this collaborative ethos, brewers often quote, and seem to live by the motto, “a rising tide lifts all boats:” helping each other helps the group as a whole. These interviews help frame an important inquiry—why do brewers cooperate so extensively when they would be expected to compete with each other, especially as the industry only grows more crowded and, in theory, more competitive? This Article offers, if not the answers, at least some plausible explanations of craft brewing’s cooperative spirit. IP’s focus on exclusive rights does little to explain craft breweries’ cooperation, but organizational theory posits that under certain circumstances competitors find it valuable to engage in “coopetition,” or behavior that is simultaneously competitive and cooperative. Coopetition is likely to arise in emerging markets and also when a group shares a putative enemy, as many craft brewers feel they do with “Big Beer.” Coopetition strengthens when “collective oppositional identity” forms. Yet craft breweries in Seattle provide examples of commitments to resource-sharing and collaboration that transcend the simplest forms of coopetition and call for a more textured account of the interplay between innovation, group belonging, and IP. The study is timely: the craft brewing industry nationally has witnessed near-constant growth for over a decade, along with a recent wave of mergers and consolidation. These market factors make it a particularly charged time to be collecting views about craft beer’s culture and what it means to belong to it. These interviews provide evidence that collective identity and belonging can have powerful but underappreciated implications for theorizing innovation and for ownership and enforcement of IP rights.

Keywords: craft brewing, beer, microbrewing, microbrewery, competition, collaboration, coopetition, anti-law, community norms, qualitative research

Suggested Citation

Said, Zahr, Craft Beer and the Rising Tide Effect: An Empirical Study of Sharing and Collaboration Among Seattle's Craft Breweries (May 6, 2019). 23 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 355-423 (Forthcoming), Available at SSRN:

Zahr Said (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States


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