Lagunitas Trademark Infringement Lawsuit
On January 12, 2015, Lagunitas Brewing Company, one of the biggest craft brewers in Northern California, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against craft beer giant Sierra Nevada in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The suit was over the use of Lagunitas trademark “IPA” design on its beer label.
According to the complaint, Lagunitas founder Tony Magee became aware that the label on Sierra Nevada’s new Hop Hunter IPA, scheduled to be released January 15, resembled the label on Lagunitas’s flagship IPA, which the brewery first released 20 years ago. According Magee’s affidavit, he says he reached out to Sierra Nevada CEO Ken Grossman before and after sending a cease-and-desist letter, before filing the lawsuit. From the complaint:
The unique “IPA” lettering used in the Lagunitas “IPA” Family of Trademarks has a distinctive serif font, distinctive kerning (or letter spacing) between the “P” and the “A”, slightly aged or weathered look, with uneven areas on each of the letters, and the elimination of any periods between the letters. These elements together are unique to the iconic design of the Lagunitas IPA.
The similarities are so great, Lagunitas argues, that the new Sierra Nevada beer will either harm Lagunitas’s brand or look like a collaboration. The company is seeking a temporary restraining order against the release of Hop Hunter, as well as financial compensation. Before discussing the merits of the claim, it must be noted that Lagunitas dropped the lawsuit just two days after filing due to outrage and negative press from the craft beer community (see Lagunita’s Twitter account statement here).
Who Wins the IPA Trademark Dispute?
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. To determine whether one party is infringing on another party’s trademark, courts look to the “likelihood of confusion” test. Likelihood of confusion exists between trademarks when the marks are so similar and the goods and/or services for which they are used are so related that consumers would mistakenly believe they come from the same source. After reviewing the images of the Lagunitas trademark and Sierra Nevada design below, who do you think would have prevailed?
While the lettering of the “IPA” has some similarities, as Magee correctly points out, it is very difficult to argue that customers would be confused as to the source of the product. Craft beer drinkers are typically a savvy bunch when it comes to the beer they drink and both Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada are well-known in the industry, so it is highly improbable that anyone would confuse the two. Additionally, even if you weren’t a savvy craft beer drinker, the labels are so vastly different in color, wording (other than IPA), and design, that it would be unlikely you would confuse the two. Not surprisingly, Sierra Nevada agrees with our stance that no customer confusion would result from Sierra Nevada’s release of Hop Hunter.
Sierra Nevada, released a statement to the public:
The Complaint alleges that Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter IPA design will create confusion among consumers between the Lagunitas IPA and Sierra Nevada’s new Hop Hunter IPA, and we intend to vigorously dispute that any consumer could possibly confuse our Hop Hunter packaging with anything that Lagunitas has.
If you are a brewery or distillery owner who needs help vetting your brand for potential trademark issues like the one that Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada faced, or if you want to make sure that your name and other key trademarks are protected, call (206) 745-5229 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free initial consultation with one of our experienced trademark attorneys.