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.