Lagunitas Drops Trademark Suit Against Sierra Nevada After Public Backlash

from the guess-they-weren't-confused,-huh? dept

Here we almost went again. The craft beer space was known for quite a while for its congenial attitude when it came to competitors. That seems to have shifted a bit in the past few years, with all kinds of silly intellectual property disputes arising among breweries. Trademark claims seem to be the issue du jour, not surprisingly, though you’d think with the common public response being backlash this trend would have ceased already. It seems the lesson still needs to be taught, however, even amongst some of the larger craft breweries with some of the best reputations. Lagunitas, for instance, which likes to bill itself as the hip and laid-back beer for the NPR crowd (yes, over-simplifying), saw fit to sue competitor Sierra Nevada over trade dress issues until the public reacted and they quickly backed away.

In a suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Lagunitas owner Tony Magee argued Sierra Nevada’s design for its Hop Hunter India Pale Ale — which features “IPA” in large, bold, black capital letters — is too similar to the design for his Lagunitas IPA label.

And here are the labels in question.

Both, as you can see, feature the letters “IPA”, for India Pale Ale, in a bold font that has some degree of similarity. As you’ll also see, assuming you aren’t a blind wombat that’s been dipping into the barley wine for twenty straight hours, both brewery’s names are super-evident on the label, the color scheme is uber-different, the rest of the label isn’t remotely the same, and oh my god, why do we have to keep doing this? The likelihood of customer confusion here is roughly the same as the likelihood that I’m about to sprout wings, horns, and enslave humanity under my forked tongue. I mean, sure, it might happen, but then we all have bigger problems, don’t you think?

The public’s reaction appears to have been similar.

But late Tuesday night, a series of tweets posted on Magee’s Twitter account said the suit would be dropped Wednesday morning.

“Today was in the hands of the ultimate court; The Court of Public Opinion and in it I got an answer to my Question; Our IPA’s TM (trademark) has limits,” according to a tweet posted to Magee’s account. Today I was seriously schooled & I heard you well,” another tweet declared.

The suit had claimed that distributors were contacting Lagunitas claiming that customers were becoming confused, but that seems unlikely given the wider public backlash. For the backlash to exist at all, you’d think there would have to be an absence of confusion. Lagunitas also claimed that consumers might think that Lagunitas had collaborated on a brew with Sierra Nevada, because apparently consumers can read acronyms but not the clearly labeled name of the single brewery on the front of each logo.

Sigh, get it together breweries. The whole point of you guys is to not be like the big macro-corporate brewery-jags. Just make awesome beer!

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Companies: lagunita, sierra nevada

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Comments on “Lagunitas Drops Trademark Suit Against Sierra Nevada After Public Backlash”

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13 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Both companies have very distinct graphic themes and color schemes. And from my tastings of other brews by these two companies, Lagunitas has nothing to fear with confusion or consumer preference for Sierra Nevada.

Of course I wouldn’t have noticed either of these cases because my mind immediately blanks out beer options from the shelf when I see “IPA” on the label. Unfortunately, that means blanking out 60% of the shelf.

DB (profile) says:

The are arguing about the logo, not the ‘IPA’ acronym.

Which is silly. I can see the rough similarity, but there is no detailed similarity or resulting confusing.

The fonts are large, bold and black. But not at all the same. Lagunitas is styled after a rough stenciling, with support line for internal white space, gaps on the edge and incomplete fill.

This could have been the start of a informal industry practice that helped consumers pick their preferred style with just a glance, much like whole milk having a red cap or metric tools having blue printing. But instead of cooperating to make that happen, they kick each other in the shins.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Liars or extremely stupid Customers

either they are lying that customers complained, or they have the stupidest customers who somehow can’t distinguish that IPA is a style of beer and not a brand.

The customers who seek out to drink their beer most definitely know that IPA is a style, not a brand. I’d see this as being a problem with the majors, where the drinker most likely thinks the piss they are drinking tastes better than the piss that one of the others makes, but those who seek out IPAs know what it is they are drinking (most Buttwiper fans would take a swig of an IPA and immediately spit it out and complain that it has way too much flavor for their tastes, since they prefer drinking sandpaper flavored water.)

I vote for the former.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Liars or extremely stupid Customers

I think this hits the nail on the head.

The distinction is helped with pricing, as well. People who are happy with stuff like Bud are not likely to be happy with paying a more for their beer than what Bud costs. People who are happy to pay a premium are doing so because they actually love beer, and are people who are likely to not only know what an IPA is, but are keenly aware of the brands and even what breweries each brand is made by. They will never be confused by two such clearly different labels.

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