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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.


  • Dismembered_MC

    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.

  • Brian Tennis

    OK, this is just asinine. C’mon Lagunita’s is this really worth it???

  • Gregory Nase

    You gotta be kidding me. I won’t be buying any Lagunitas any time soon.

    • acupunk

      More for me…

      • Summit-Fi HeadphonesMasterRace


  • Rafael Mindú

    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…

  • Jeff

    Lagunitas I was excited that your beers where finally available in Kansas. Now I really don’t give a shit.

  • Rob Torres

    Tony, you said yourself..”can’t trademark the alphabet.”

  • Tom

    Only differences are Sierra nevada sucks

    • cattail722

      Uh, no. Wrong.

  • This is such a stretch that it has stopped me from wanting a Laguinitas for a long time

  • Deedeedee

    Lagunitas – “our customers are too stupid to realize this is not our beer”

    • Cam Richards


  • Toolguy2

    The only common thing about this is that they both say IPA but in different fonts. Should be thrown out before it gets to the court room.

  • You shouldn’t be able to trademark a damn font. Who gives a shit, Tony?! You’re coming off as a dick. Knock it off.

    • Scott Millican

      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.

      • Aggh

        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.

        • Owen Iverson

          losing the trademark of what, the letters I, P and A?

          • Aggh

            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.

          • Owen Iverson

            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.

          • BorderLine Guy

            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.

  • Robert Carl Brown

    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

  • I wish they’d at least think of mediation

    • asdf

      What is there to mediate? Lagunitas has no sensible standing.

      • They don’t think so, and it’s more of a legal standing. I’m sure they have many things on their minds and didn’t want to go all “legal” on it. Could cost both sides tens of thousands of dollars. Hope not

  • GRS

    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.

    • TechBeer

      That would be a compliment for Lagunitas. They make a few really good IPAs, but let’s face it…SN does it better.

      • Aggh

        Bahaha. SN wishes they had an IPA that measures up to sucks.

    • Written Description

      That’s a pretty fancy (lawyerly) way of Lagunitas arguing that they’ve got broad rights that would be infringed by any “similar” prominent presentation of the letters IPA in a beer label. Their arguments are bogus and wouldn’t have withstood legal scrutiny.

  • dailypint

    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.

    • Dean Swiatek

      I think it’s a ploy for free media attention to be honest… they can’t expect to win…

  • Dominique

    NIce try Lagunitas. As a designer, I find the only thing they have in common is a mediocre design.

  • Johnny Wells

    Who does this guy think he is? Howard Stern? #Hoohoo #Iinventedeverything

  • Sam the Sham

    I bet that Hop Hunter is like a million times better than Lagunitas IPA.

  • justAbeerDrinker

    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.

  • Paul Ortiz

    oh brother…

  • Robert Anderson

    So dumb. if you can’t tell the difference between these two then you have had way to much to drink and need to go home.

  • Mike

    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?

  • Will Vautrain

    Maybe Lagunitas really does suck.

  • Will Vautrain

    Lagunitas IPA = Intellectual Property Ale.

  • Jolly Green Giant

    Lagunitas doesnt own “IPA”


    The owner tried to get attention by talking smack about Boston Beer Co. too. He’s a jerk.

  • Nevermuse

    I’ll stick to one of the 30101390 Michigan IPA’s anyway..

  • Dean Swiatek

    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).

  • deekaman

    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

  • Reaperswoman

    I hate when Mom and Dad fight

  • JTHM

    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.

  • Richard Dubey

    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.

  • Written Description

    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.

  • Chippy Smithers

    all this does is make lawyers rich. wait until there’s monsanto like suits over evolved yeast strains

  • Who cares what I say…?

    Lagunitas are just being twats. Don’t be twats.

  • Theoryno7

    You don’t want anyone to step on your trademark? Try getting a bit more creative with the name of your flagship beer.

  • Owen Iverson

    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!

  • Starcopy

    No more Lagunitas beer in this house. I only buy beer brewed by gentlemen.

  • BorderLine Guy

    I wish I didn’t like so many of Lagunitas beers, because this is a huge ahole move for them.

  • notfamous

    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!

  • Gizmopunk 

    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

  • Chris Rusu

    No need to be cunts about beer. We have BMC for that shit.

  • JohnLarmer

    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…”

  • Beernutz

    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.

  • Jay Lowe

    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.

  • Maria

    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.