from the for-the-lulz dept
While I write about a great many trademark disputes in these pages, there are certain stories that pique my interest above others, or otherwise become more fun. Writing about trademark issues in the alcohol industries has been something of a passion of mine, for instance. It’s also fun to highlight when the courts get trademark questions right, since far too often the opposite occurs. And, when you have a judge who chooses to embed some humor in their rulings, that gets pretty fun as well.
And then sometimes you run into a trademark story that combines all three of the above. Such is the case in a trademark dispute between two South Carolina breweries. Low Tide Brewing has sued Tideland Brewing for trademark infringement over its name. As part of that suit, Low Tide Brewing went so far as to seek a preliminary injunction against Tideland to keep it from using that name while the suit plays out.
In ruling on the injunction, the judge was simply not having it.
“Low Tide has not made a clear showing of its likelihood to succeed on the merits of its trademark infringement claim. Without that showing, Low Tide is up the creek,” U.S. District Court judge David C. Norton concluded in his April 12 opinion. “Accordingly … Low Tide’s request for an injunction (is) dead in the water.”
It’s not Dave Chappelle level comedy, but it’s pretty fun as far as these rulings go. And that wasn’t the only part of the decision that incorporated a bit of humor into it. Though, given what the judge’s reasoning for denying the injunction was, it seems likely that Low Tide isn’t yucking it up alongside the judge.
As Norton noted in his ruling, a preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy” that penalizes the defendant before the case is heard. Consequently, a trademark holder seeking a preliminary injunction must satisfy all parts of a four-prong test. One of those prongs involves demonstrating that consumers are likely to be confused about who made the product they’re enjoying. Norton agreed that Low Tide’s trademark is valid and distinctive, but found it wasn’t strong enough to cause customer confusion.
“The instances of third-party use of the word ‘tide,’ locally and within the relevant industry, are enough to take the wind from Low Tide’s sails,” Norton wrote. “As such, Low Tide’s endeavor to wash away the prevalence of the word ‘tide’ in coastal commerce holds little water.”
Furthermore, Norton ruled the two names aren’t so alike that consumers would struggle to tell them apart. “The marks are, at best, somewhat similar, meaning that Low Tide, now swimming upstream, has failed to demonstrate that the factor tilts the inquiry in its favor,” he wrote.
It doesn’t end there. Norton went on to comment on Low Tide’s submissions for what it calls actual customer confusion. That submission consisted of a single instance in which one of Low Tide’s own employees called Tideland to ask if they were part of a Low Tide expansion. To that, Norton wrote in the ruling that “The court declines to take the bait.”
All of which is a puntastic way for the judge to let Low Tide know that, while the trademark case will indeed go on, the court isn’t looking too fondly on Low Tide’s side of the equation. At this point, it might be time for Low Tide to find a way to bow out of all of this as gracefully as it can muster.