from the our-home-is-mine dept
Way back in 2018, we discussed how the Ravinia Festival Association, which operates the Ravinia Festival venue north of Chicago, attempted to shut down or force a rename for the then new Ravinia Brewing Company brewery and restaurant in Highland Park. That might all look fairly appropriate at first glance if you’re not from the area, but we locals know that the name “Ravinia” comes from what was once the Village of Ravinia, which was then annexed into Highland Park in 1899. The area is still referred to by that name, however, making “Ravinia” a geographic marker, not unlike the word “Wrigleyville” in Chicago.
Still, the RFA is a large entity and the brewery was a startup, so rather than engaging in defending itself from any trademark claims brought by the RFA, the company instead worked out a deal to continue using the name under certain restrictions in 2018. More on that later.
Well, the RFA has since claimed that Ravinia Brewing has violated that agreement and it is therefore nullified. In addition, it has sued the brewery over trademark infringement as a result.
Filed last month in Chicago federal court, the lawsuit alleges Ravinia Brewing, which sells whimsically named beers and tacos from its modest storefront taproom, violated a since-rescinded 2018 agreement to limit the use of their shared hometown moniker. The restriction was intended to minimize confusion between “world-renowned Ravinia” and a “local restaurant and bar,” the lawsuit alleges.
Ravinia Brewing Company failed to comply with the agreement and more recently “acted blatantly in disregard of the guidelines, further trading on — and infringing — Ravinia’s well-known registered trademark,” the nonprofit festival association alleges.
Now, the filing is embedded below, so you can go read it for yourself. That being said, you really do have to keep in mind throughout that reading and this entire post that the Ravinia mark probably shouldn’t have been granted in the first place and, even if you disagree, should never have been granted in a manner in which RFA felt it could preclude anyone else from using it other than in very limited circumstances. So part of the original sin in all of this was RFA bullying Ravinia Brewing into this 2018 agreement in the first place.
As to the claims that Ravnia Brewing violated the agreement, here are the main claims:
- The owners of Ravinia Brewing opened a second location in a different neighborhood in Chicago while retaining the Ravinia Brewing name, but under a separate corporate entity that was not party to the 2018 agreement.
- That both venues provided live music, causing confusion among the public as to association with RFA, particularly as marketing material lacked disclaimers to disassociate the two entities.
- That Ravinia Brewing marketed its beer on social media with pictures of the public consuming its beer at Ravinia Festival’s venue.
- That Ravinia Brewing released a beer with a music-themed name and trade dress similar to the color scheme for the RFA.
- That the words “Brewing Company” on marketing and packaging material for beers were of a font not at least 28% the size of the word “Ravinia” on the same packaging.
I’ll tackle these out of order. The live music at the brewery’s venues has typically amounted to a person with a guitar playing some tunes. While not every case, these performances are nothing like the massive concerts put on at the RFA venue.
Ravinia Festival also alleges in its complaint that Ravinia Brewing’s promotion of musical performances has “caused actual confusion in the marketplace.” The lawsuit cites summer appearances by Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras jazz students at Ravinia Brewing in Chicago as an example.
This past season, the Ravinia Festival presented a typically diverse all-star musical lineup that went beyond student musicians, featuring everyone from Santana and Jethro Tull to Carrie Underwood and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Walker said the brewery’s sporadic musical offerings are less ambitious.
“It tends to be a guy playing a guitar on a Thursday night,” Walker said. “That’s the extent of it. We haven’t done live music in Highland Park for two years.”
The font size claim? Yeah, that came down to a change in the size and shape of the beer can and was rectified once the brewery realized what had happened.
When Ravinia switched from 12-ounce to 16-ounce cans last year, it stretched the proportions of the logo slightly, with “Brewing Company” shrinking to about 26% of “Ravinia,” Walker said.
“We didn’t even know that had happened until they raised this,” Walker said. “That was part of the offer we made back to them, to immediately change it and make ‘Brewing Company’ 30% (as large), so we never have to worry about this again.”
The larger trade dress claim? Well, that’s where the new beer, named “Key Note”, comes in. The brewery released the beer under that name and with music-themed branding, all of which the RFA claims constitutes trademark infringement in and of itself.
Ravinia Brewing features a selection of Chicago-brewed beers in colorful cans with equally colorful local-themed names such as “Diversey Station” and “Steep Ravine.” But the brewery allegedly crossed the line when it rereleased “Key Strokes” this summer, which includes the image of a pianist on a green-colored can that Ravinia Festival alleges “improperly links” the beer with the concert venue.
That beer is not currently available right now, by the way. On the matter of the second location opened up miles and miles away from Highland Park, here I’m going to revert back to the original point: Ravinia is a geographic indicator no different than Wrigleyville, and any scope of limiting the use of it by others ought to be extremely limited as a result. In fact, if anything, I would think that the new location not being party to the 2018 agreement is an asset to that new entity. Maybe that’s an avenue to pushback on the validity of the RFA’s trademark to begin with. And the distance from the original venue seems to me that it would be less likely to cause confusion, not more.
And then there’s the social media claim, specifically that the brewery put out pictures on social media showing the public drinking the brewery’s beer at the RFA venue. Well, according to the owners of the brewery, that claim just couldn’t be more wrong.
Walker called it the “most egregious” allegation in the lawsuit.
“The example they used was not from Ravinia Brewing’s social media platform,” he said. “It was a picture that my wife took of her and I while she was drinking one of our beers on her own personal page.”
This whole lawsuit is bad. The claims are a mess, overblown at best and completely confused at worst. The brewery is certainly no threat to the RFA’s business or reputation. And, again, this all comes down to controlling a term that is a geographic marker.
Brett Tolpin, an intellectual property attorney and Ravinia native who has represented Ravinia Brewing in its legal battle with the music festival, said the Ravinia name is fair game.
“The word Ravinia is what we call in trademark law geographically descriptive, and it’s fair use for all to use,” Tolpin said. “It’s like using the word Chicago, nobody owns a geographic name.”
Yeah, that’s generally true. Perhaps the best course of justice here would be this lawsuit resulting in the RFA losing its trademark to the single word “Ravinia” completely.
At least that way all of this overwrought silliness could come to an end.
Filed Under: likelihood of confusion, ravinia, trademark
Companies: ravinia brewing company, ravinia festival