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Lagunitas Files Legal Complaint Against Sierra Nevada [UPDATED]

Craft beer’s naming designations, and branding, may be the biggest internal struggle/battleground it faces in the next couple of years.

Lagunitas Brewing and SweetWater Brewing got into a public battle over the “420” branding that appears on SweetWater’s 420 Extra Pale Ale, and on some of Lagunita’s IPA posters and branding. Much of the public discussion surrounding that kerfuffle was thanks to Lagunita founder Tony Magee’s tweets about the situation.

As the situation died down, Tony Magee wrote to Beer Street Journal, basically wanting to move on from the situation:

Greetings- lagunitas here. I didn’t call them before the tweets since I’d just finished reading a basic declaration of war over the ‘rights’ to 420 so I pretty much understood Freddie’s point of view. You’ll notice that in the tweets I told him he could have it. But more to the point, I told the world that I didn’t want to pretend to ‘own’ something that belongs in the commons. Maybe the world will want to take it back from Freddie, maybe not. For me and us it is not a pretend highway but it means what everybody knows that it means. But even through all of this, noone there has even tried to call and be human. I did call his attorney and he’s not a bad guy, just a hired gun. So that you know, I have never call a beer 420-anything. Just stuck it here and there on our POS material. But I have done so since 1994, three years before the other brewery even opened. It’s all in the past tense for me now, but thanks for writing about it! Cheers.. Tony.

While the SweetWater/Lagunitas situation is behind us, Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada now have a new legal issue to sort out. This one is over the labeling of Sierra Nevada’s forthcoming Hop Hunter IPA, as it relates to Lagunitas IPA.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Lagunitas Brewing Company vs. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company was filed yesterday in the Northern District of California
  • – Index No. 3:15-cv-00153
  • – Lagunitas asserts four federally registered trademarks and two pending trademarks all relating to Lagunitas IPA, against Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA
  •  Basically, the complaint states the black, bold, “IPA” lettering, with distinctive kerning (spacing) especially with “P” and “A” are too similar
  •  Complaint asserts consumers might confuse the two brands, based on similar “IPA” branding
  • Additionally, Lagunitas notes the “Hop Hunter” branding appears to be a departure from usual Sierra Nevada labeling
  • Sierra Nevada’s proclivity for collaborations, along with the branding departure, could lead consumers to believe this is a collaboration between the companies
  • Tony Magee’s affidavit states that he personally reached out to Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman, with no resolution

Two of craft beer’s biggest in a legal discussion over branding might end up setting a precedent for the industry in the future. Time will tell how this shakes out.

A trademark attorney Brendan Palfreyman with Harris Beach in Syracuse, New York and good friend of Beer Street Journal, assisted in breaking down the complaint details.

UPDATE: 11:30 pm (Same day) Lagunitas founder states he’s dropping the suit.


62 thoughts on “Lagunitas Files Legal Complaint Against Sierra Nevada [UPDATED]

  1. It clearly says “Sierra Nevada”. The word “IPA” is in a completely different font and is used to describe the contents within the bottle. Get over it Lagunitas.

  2. I really think that Lagunitas should stop worrying about IPA’s typography and spend that time worrying about new beer recipes and things like that. For me, it looks like they are having a lot of free time…

    • Even if you can/could trademark a font, the lettering fonts aren’t the same for the IPA letters. The only one that is similar is the “I”, and there are only so many ways to make an “I”. The “P” and the “A” are completely different.

      • Trademarks have to be more broad than that or people would never be able to defend a trademark. Also, Lagunitas pretty much had to take some kind of action or risk losing the trademark.

          • It’s a trade mark for that particular presentation of the letters on a beer. It blows my mind how people can’t understand that this isn’t a trademark on “IPA.”

            This would have been a whole different store if people hadn’t gone off into a dumbass rage without doing even a cursory amount of reading on trademark law and the actual details of the trademark in question.

          • so i can’t use IPA in some kind of black bold typeface because Lagunitas already claimed that as a trademark? i guess what blows my mind is corporate law, but that’s probably because i’m just simple country folk.

          • No, some of us understand it completely, and think Tony is high.

            Font style, font size, color, kerning (give me a break, he trademarked the space between letters?), and presentation are all completely different.

  3. Wow…they wrote IPA in big black letters…. other than that i see nothing similar…i don’t see anyone confusing them
    but im sure Sierra Nevada is happy for the free advertising…I woudn’t have known Hop Hunter was coming otherwise…now i’ll be looking for it

  4. Check the third bullet point in the breakdown: Lagunitas isn’t claiming exclusive rights to use the word “IPA.” They’re claiming that the “black, bold ‘IPA’ lettering, with distinctive kerning (spacing)” is similar enough to cause people to think that Sierra Nevada’s product was made by them.

  5. Neither brand will gain or lose from this effort. The only thing guaranteed to happen is both companies will pad the pockets of their corporate attorneys. Lawyers win again….playing right into their hands.

  6. maybe we should let businesses be businesses and just drink the beer we like. unless you have been babying your trademarks for years or are a trademark lawyer you probably dont really understand whats going on.

  7. Okay, so why don’t you ask Harris Beach why this lawsuit happened in the
    first place, why shit like this happens, why the world of trademark law
    is a cesspit of bullshit, instead of creating a self-serving click-bait
    article that does more damage than the punitive damages the laguinitas
    legal team is conjuring up as we speak. You’re going to tell me that
    Tony Magee is going to put a sizable amount of his credibility on the
    line (we’re talking tens of percents, but that matters when your company
    is that large) over something that is frivolous and stupid?

    I mean, fuck. Seriously? Has adblock and low CPM rates driven the grassroots internet media to yellow journalism?

  8. Lagunitas has been one of my go to breweries; I love their beers, but after this I really feel inclined not to buy their beers anymore. I really hate patent trolling, but in this case I feel they’re really grasping at straws, as they clearly did not invent the IPA, or the name for IPA, and the font is different enough, different sizes and the spacing is similar but not even identical (and it’s a different font anyway).

  9. I don’t see mistaking Lagunitas anything for Sierra Nevada. Right now, I don’t know that I would mistake Lagunitas for “beer”. I’m pretty sure they are now bottling Shirley Temples

  10. The FONTS are clearly different annnnd, well the SN logo is right there intermeshed in the design. I’m really getting tired of these Brewer related bitch fests and legal insurrections. I’m a fan of both brands and I won’t bother boycotting anyone, but I’m going to side with Ken Grossman on this. This is Petty BS in my opinion.

  11. What a bunch of crap. Frivilous BS to tie up our court systems because you believe the masses are too stupid to know who’s product they are drinking. I gotta say, if you want to be that much of a douche, there are plenty of other IPA’s that I can drink instead of yours. You should stick to making beer (which you do well) and stop being an a$$hole.

  12. Suddenly, Lagunitas beer doesn’t taste so good. Now that doesn’t mean I won’t finish off the remainder of the Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ six-pack in my fridge, but when I buy again I’ll pick up some Founders Centennial IPA instead.

  13. i always got those two confused! i used to think it was because i was just hammered out of my skull as i dug through through the racks at the corner store, but now i realize it was the kerning!

  14. Far be it for me to defend Lagunitas, but it’s worth mentioning that Lagunitas’ IPA was one of, if not the very first, of the “West Coast” IPA’s and *established* the style in the mid ’90’s. That has alway’s stuck in Sierra’s craw as IPA slowly ate up market share of Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale; which is worth mentioning was one of, if not the very first, of the “West Coast” Pale Ales. They are both excellent beers in their own right and should own their place in history.

    I say this just to provide a little historical context. Sierra has felt the pressure for years to compete in the IPA market directly because of Lagunitas’ success with the brand. It is no coincidence that Sierra feels compelled to likewise build on (borrow?) the successful branding Lagunitas has had with their flagship brew. IPA built Lagunitas, so it’s not surprising that Tony would have a deep, personal connection to his own creation. He did painstakingly create that distinctive IPA font from hand, and the first to refer to an India Pale Ale as IPA on the label. That should be worth something.

    Face it folks, there are an infinite ways to visually convey a brand. From a *trademark* perspective, the comparisons are legally obvious. I know legal subtlety is not a rubric of the folksy craft beer industry, but both of these brands are now approaching international scale, and there is a LOT of brand value at stake here.

    That said, CHEERS!

  15. If you know Lagunitas you know they are jokers. If you know Sierra, you know they are of a more corporate mentality regarding their safe marketing. I think Tony is just poking fun at Sierra about “owning” the 420

  16. Sierra Nevada was clearly trying to cash in on the big black letters-style of writing “IPA” that Lagunitas famously used to help them make that style of beer popular – but no, I do not think it rises to the level of a copyright infringement. The savvy beer drinkers who wrote comments about it here won’t mistake one for the other, but Sierra Nevada was aiming at the newbies who think “oh yeah, IPA, heard that’s good, maybe I’ll try it…”

  17. It’s pretty stupid, but Ken Grossman is kind of a pompous ass, who has helped to impose a crippling limit on start up breweries in Chico, not that they would ever be able to compete with SN anyway.
    Put him in his place Tony.

  18. I am from Chico and went to high school with Brian Grossman. His dad Ken started brewing beer in this garage over 30 years ago and is now one of the 3 “micro” brewers that has reached the billion dollar net worth mark. I don’t think that Lagunitas has anything to do with that success. If anything they are trying to get attention by leaching onto Sierra Nevada. Also someone wrote that Ken is a pompous ass and I have to disagree. He is very active in this communty and is a good person. I do like A litttle sumpin’ and that is about it.

  19. I cannot believe how much legal bullshit Laguintas gets into. It’s pretty pathetic. Besides the fact that their beer hasn’t been tasting very good lately I am going to stop buying thier beer because of their stupid legal squabbles. Seriously get over yourselves.

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