Drama hit the craft beer world (once again) this week, when Lagunitas Brewing Company filed a lawsuit Monday against Sierra Nevada for alleged trademark infringement. Lagunitas founder Tony Magee claimed that the label on Sierra Nevada’s new Hop Hunter IPA was too similar to his trademarked Lagunitas IPA logo.
According to Magee, Sierra Nevada’s label closely imitates the unique lettering in his label, citing its “distinctive serif font, distinctive kerning (or letter spacing), between the ‘P’ and the ‘A’, slightly aged or weathered look, with uneven areas on each of the letters, and the elimination of any periods between the letters” to be unique to Lagunitas IPA. Due to the alleged similarities, Magee said that customers may confuse the two – harming the Lagunitas brand – or think of it as a collaboration brew (which Lagunitas does not do).
On Wednesday, two days after filing, Magee dropped the lawsuit due to overwhelming backlash from consumers around the country. While this was a smart move on his part, the craft beer community is still left with a bad taste in their mouth.
Breaking the communal spirit of craft beer
Part of the charm of the craft beer industry is the collaborative nature it celebrates. People involved want to try as many different beers as possible and like to compare brews of similar styles. Everyone has their own tastes, everyone has their own preferences – but everyone likes to try everything there is to offer. That’s the whole point, right?
By suing a fellow brewery for arguably nonexistent design similarities, Magee broke the unspoken “craft beer bro code.” This isn’t his first time running into drama in the industry either, as he’s had issues with SweetWater, Goose Island, Knee Deep, Sam Adams and New Belgium. Unfortunately though, Lagunitas isn’t the only brewery to pollute the communal spirit of the field.
In an expanding industry being flooded by new breweries and new beers, it’s almost impossible for companies to invent new names or designs that are absolutely unlike any others. Brewers are becoming so protective of their ideas that there are now lawyers that specialize in craft beer disputes. It’s a creative industry, but not everything can be completely different.
Litigation causes more harm than good
While some breweries — like Lagunitas — are focusing on protecting their own, we can find solace in others — like Russian River Brewing Company and Avery Brewing — who choose to collaborate and celebrate similarities. Craft beer is a sort of brotherhood that is not meant to favor unhealthy competition.
That’s not to say that entities aren’t entitled to what’s rightfully theirs, however. Craft beer has indeed become a big business, and should be treated as one. However, it doesn’t need to be transformed into a cutthroat, high-competition environment. In an industry that was built on a willingness to work together, it’s painful to see brewers get lost in the world of “me.” Is this where the craft beer industry is headed?
I could talk at length about everything technically wrong with Lagunitas’ affidavit: how their claims don’t hold up, how the labels don’t show the claimed similarities, that people will not confuse the two or that Hop Hunter IPA will not directly damage Lagunitas IPA sales. However, I think any damage to Lagunitas was just caused by Tony and his crew.
Many BeerAdvocate users and consumers on other platforms have asserted they won’t be buying Lagunitas beer again, solely because of this incident. I, for one, have never been a huge fan of Lagunitas and only enjoy a select few of their brews, but this was enough to make me not want to purchase their beer for a while.
While I can acknowledge and appreciate that Tony has apologized and withdrew the lawsuit, I’m still bitter — pun sort of intended. I’ve voiced many times that the collaborative environment in the beer world is what I love most about it – besides the beer, of course – and I feel uneasy supporting a company that so easily goes against what its industry is founded on.