UPDATE: It looks like the case of Lagunitas vs. Sierra Nevada won't be setting any legal precedents after all, as it is over as quickly as it started. Tonight Lagunitas founder Tony Magee spoke out from the brand's Twitter page, stating that the brewery will be officially dropping the lawsuit Wednesday morning.
The California craft brewing scene is usually characterized by good-natured cooperation and collaboration, but of course there are always limits. This week finds two of the best brewing companies on the West Coast, Lagunitas Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, mixed up in a trademark infringement lawsuit over three little letters that California brewers and beer drinkers alike know all too well: IPA.
Specifically, it’s the placement and the font of the term “IPA” that’s causing a mix up with Lagunitas. The complaint, filed by Lagunitas on January 12 with San Francisco’s US District Court, argues that the label for Sierra Nevada’s new Hop Hunter IPA (a new beer brewed with distilled hop oil and scheduled for launch on January 15) is stepping on the toes of the trademarked logo for Lagunitas IPA. As the complaint notes:
As the trademark holder of this logo, Lagunitas Founder and CEO Tony Magee has declared that the similarities between the Lagunitas IPA logo and the new Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA logo are simply too great, especially the similarities between the six-pack branding for each. Moreover, the difference between this new Sierra Nevada logo and the rest of its lineup only underscores the issue:
Beer blog BrewBound reached out to Magee, who acknowledged that this isn’t a personal attack that Lagunitas is eager to take on, but a last resort that the beer brand feels it must follow through with to protect its name:
But on the other hand why would Sierra Nevada, the largest brewing company in California, want to create consumer confusion in order to draw Lagunitas fans toward their own IPA instead? As a press release issued by Sierra Nevada today states, the brand has a unique new beer on its hands with Hop Hunter IPA and has no intention of being recognized as anyone other than itself:
Just last week, NPR ran a piece on one of the rising side effects of the craft beer boom: legal battles arising from too many breweries and specialty brews and not enough good names between them, leading to disparate breweries with beer names that are all too familiar. This seems like one of the highest profile examples of this issue yet—and the result of the lawsuit either way could set a precedent for how similar cases are handled in the future.