World of War Craft (Beer)

That headline might be a little strong, since threatened litigation really isn’t “war.”  But two craft brewers recently got into a trademark fight that had a peaceful resolution, apparently as a result of public opinion. 

On January 12, the Lagunitas Brewing Co. filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Sierra was ready to launch a new produce called “Hop Hunter IPA.”  But according to Lagunitas, the logo Sierra chose infringed on the Lagunitas IPA logo trademark. 

The claim was a little fuzzy and it appears that Lagunitas may have been trying to argue that it owned a trademark in the term “IPA” itself. That would be a tough argument to make. While the font and design of the letters “IPA” may be protected, the word is merely descriptive of a particular type of craft beer. And Lagunitas can’t exercise veto power over competitors who want to sell an IPA style beer.

And on the logo issue, an important question is whether consumers will be confused. Here they are side by side:

Can you spot the difference? I figured you could. Of course, I have very bright readers.

It looks like Lagunitas realized that maybe this was not a bar fight worth picking. In a series of tweets the day after filing the suit, Lagunitas founder Tony Magee announced he was dropping the suit. He said he lost in “the ultimate court – the Court of Public Opinion.” That’s the ultimate court? These guys might disagree:

I’m not sure if it was public opinion or a recognition that the case was weak that led to the decision to drop the suit so quickly. But it points up a valid concern in this type of situation. While it’s critically important to protect your brand, it’s equally important it consider how consumers will view the effort. If you come off looking like a bully, especially in an industry where companies pride themselves on being “the little guys” it may not be worth the effort. 

Thanks to my colleague Dan Knecht for bringing this to my attention. His beer radar is second to none. Dan is a member of Graydon Head’s Craft Food and Beverage Industry Group, which focuses on assisting clients with the organizational, marketing, and employment legal issues peculiar to burgeoning brewers, restaurants, and retailers.