Beer TM Today, Gone Tommorow: IPA Spat Goes Flat

“The room was humming harder, As the ceiling flew away, When we called out for another drink, The waiter brought a tray.” A Whiter Shade of Pale by Keith Reid, Gary Brooker (recorded by Procol Harum)

Surprise turned to Schadenfreude last week in trademark land when micro-brewer Lagunitas sued micro-legend Sierra Nevada for trademark infringement. The mark at issue? IPA–a common acronym for the style of beer called “India Pale Ale.” For years, Lagunitas’s IPA packages featured the letters IPA in large, highly stylized script. And Lagunitas saw red when Sierra Nevada changed the packages for its IPA to put those letters front and center:

beer

Scores of brewers offer up their takes on this hoppy variety of pale ale. And many call it “IPA.” So the odds that any one company could snag “IPA” as a trademark would seem long at best–not the makings of a good bar bet. But those long odds did not deter Lagunitas. In its lawsuit, the company focused on style, not substance. According to Lagunitas’s complaint in Federal court, the letters IPA weren’t the issue. Sierra Nevada’s offense was copying the large-letter format and style of Lagunitas’s IPA logo.

But in this era where microbreweries are giving the beer establishment a run for its money and craft beer isn’t just for hipsters anymore, the nuances of trademark law sometimes can get lost on the blogosphere. Rather than stirring up sympathy, the lawsuit sparked a brew-haha of criticism, with Twitter and other social media sites overflowing with outrage over the idea that one brewer could monopolize IPA. So even though that wasn’t Lagunitas’s aim, the brewer responded to the backlash with contrition reminiscent of a morning-after dose of reality. In a Twitter post, owner Tony Magee wrote: “Today, I was seriously schooled . . . Tomorrow morning we’ll drop the infringement suit.[and] get back to answering other questions.”

So Lagunitaas learned a valuable lesson. When it comes to IP rights for IPA, size apparently doesn’t matter.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” Abraham Lincoln

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Filed under IP, trademarks, Uncategorized

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