January 15, 2015

A Tale of Two Ales


"Here's to alcohol: the cause of, and answer to, all of life's problems." Matt Groening

The former is certainly true for Lagunitas Brewing Company. Lagunitas is dealing with a PR headache worse than the worst hangover after it sued Sierra Nevada Brewing Company for infringement of various "IPA" trademarks owned by Lagunitas. For you teetotalers out there, IPA stands for India Pale Ale, a fairly popular genre of beer. In a Complaint filed on Monday, Lagunitas asserted that the label for Sierra Nevada's new Hop Hunter IPA infringes Lagunitas' trademarks. The competing marks are as follows:

Lagunitas
Sierra Nevada

Although it can take years to reach a resolution in a court of law, it took less than 24 hours for the court of public opinion to reach a nearly unanimous decision on this trademark dispute. I am inclined to agree that there is no likelihood of confusion between these marks. Beer lovers across the country united on the issue, taking to Twitter and craft beer message boards to criticize Lagunitas for its decision to file suit.

On Tuesday night, Lagunitas announced on Twitter its intent to drop the lawsuit in the wake of the backlash. Today, Lagunitas, through its attorneys, filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal. As a result, you may begin seeing Sierra Nevada's Hop Hunter IPA in a store near you. As for Lagunitas, it is unclear how much damage this has done to its brand.

And it didn't have to be this way.

Allow me to tell you another tale. A tale about partnership. A tale about success. A tale about Salvation.

Salvation was the name chosen by not one but two craft breweries, Russian River Brewing and Avery Brewing. As proof that there is no one path to Salvation, both breweries chose the name to represent their respective Belgian-style ales. Instead of resorting to costly litigation over which brewery would emerge with rights in the name, the brewers decided to work together to make a beverage that embodies the best qualities of each beer. Their Salvations were blended together to make a beer the brewer duo aptly named "Collaboration not Litigation Ale."

So, if you are faced with the decision over whether to enforce your trademark rights, take a moment to stop and think about these craft breweries and their vastly different approaches to solving the dilemma. And, while you are at it, pour yourself a cold one. That frosty mug could contain the answer to your problems. On the other hand, it could be your undoing. Cheers!

To learn more about this Collaboration not Litigation Ale, check it this video:

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