Two days after filing a lawsuit alleging that Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. infringed its stylized label trademark featuring the letters “IPA,” Lagunitas Brewing Co. filed a notice of voluntary dismissal without prejudice in the case and its owner, Tony Magee, publicly commented that he had been “seriously schooled” by the “Court of Public Opinion” following a wave of social media backlash. The Lagunitas Brewing Co. v. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., No 15-153 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., notice of voluntary dismissal filed January 14, 2015).
The complaint alleged that Sierra Nevada’s label for its new Hop Hunter IPA, in a “radical departure” from its typical label designs, infringed the Lagunitas trademark on “large, all-capital, bold, black and centralized ‘IPA’ lettering.” The complaint further argued that “[w]hen Lagunitas began selling its now iconic IPA beer in 1995, there existed only a handful of other brewers who produced an India Pale Ale, and, on information and belief, no other company had marketed or sold its India Pale Ale using the acronym ‘IPA.’” The company did not assert the exclusive right to the use of the acronym, but argued that its large blocked “IPA” on the label was distinctive down to the kerning of the letters.
After the complaint received negative publicity on social media, Magee said via Twitter that he had attempted to work out the issue with the founder of Sierra Nevada but had not received a satisfactory response. “Today, January 13th[,] 2015, has been the worst day ever in 23 years of growing my brewery,” he wrote. “Today was in the hands of the ultimate court[,] The Court of Public Opinion[,] and in it I got an answer to my Question[:] Our IPA’s [trademark] has limits.” In a January 14, 2015, interview with the Chicago Tribune, Magee defended both the lawsuit and its retraction. “If we’d gone to court I think we would have been successful,” he said. “But it would have been a [P]yrrhic victory.” Additional information about increasing trademark tensions in the craft brewing market appears in Issue 550 of this Update. See @lagunitasT, January 13, 2015.