Beer Wars Brewing Over Trademarks Reach a Crescendo

There has been a lot of news lately about the rising trademark turf wars building up in the craft beer brewing industry.   The latest combatants appear to have come back from the brink of litigation when Lagunitas owner Tony Magee called off his suit against Sierra Nevada over its planned release of “Hop Hunter IPA.” Magee obliquely cited intense criticism from beer-drinking Twitter followers as the reason for calling off the suit and apologized in a series of mea culpa tweets.  Here are a couple of observations about the dispute from a legal standpoint:

Actual Confusion for an Unreleased Product?

“Hop Hunter IPA” has not been released to the public yet, a fact noted by Lagunitas in the complaint. Lagunitas filed in the Northern District of California, where “evidence of actual confusion” is one of the eight factors 9th Circuit courts consider in trademark infringement analysis based on the Sleekcraft case.  The complaint did not cite any actual consumer confusion between Lagunitas IPA and Hop Hunter IPA but pointed to “concern over consumer confusion in the marketplace” voiced by distributors that purportedly contacted the company. Magee also stated in his declaration in support of a TRO that “in my opinion, the consumer…is likely to be confused…based on the overall imitation of the Lagunitas IPA 6-pack packaging” by the Hop Hunter logo. Based on this limited evidence alone, this Sleekcraft factor would not have helped Lagunitas’ trademark infringement argument.

Are the Logos Confusingly Similar?

When looking at the two competing six-packs side by side as presented in the complaint, it is questionable whether taken in totality the two logos are confusingly similar (see para. 25 figure 15). However, it is strange how truly different the use of “IPA” in the Hop Hunter logo is from previous Sierra Nevada IPA logos (take a look at para. 21 figure 13 in the complaint and see for yourself). The complaint also shows Sierra Nevada’s specimen of actual use in commerce for its “Hop Hunter” trademark registration, and the letters “IPA” are conspicuously absent. Lagunitas opined that the representation on a six-pack for the mark was “a radical departure from the design used by Sierra Nevada in registering its “HOP HUNTER” word mark.”

Hopefully, the owners of the two companies can get together in a Northern California redwood forest, kick back a couple pints of their wares, and let bygones be bygones.

Photo by File:Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Girl.jpg by Markburger83; Derivative work: Lauro Sirgado (talk • contribs). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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