• April 9, 2013

There has been an exponential amount of growth in the Minnesota craft-brewing scene. Ever since the passage of the Surly Bill, a law spearheaded by local beer powerhouse Surly Brewing Co. that allows local breweries to sell beer on-site, new breweries and tap rooms have been popping up all over the state.

With fast expansion comes competition, and with competition comes charges of unfair competition and litigation. As reported by Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Stillwater based brewery Lift Bridge Brewing sued the Menomonie, Wisconsin based Lucette Brewery for violation of the Lanham Act and common law unfair trade practices and trademark infringement.

According to the Complaint, Lift Bridge was approved for a trademark in 2009 to protect with the USTPO for their bestselling beer, Farm Girl Saison – what Lift Bridge describes as a light Belgian-style pale ale made with spiced hops. Lift Bridge claims that in 2012, after Farm Girl had been heavily marketed and become popular in restaurants and bars, Lucette infringed on its Farm Girl trademark by introducing a similar beer called Farmer’s Daughter. The Complaint alleges that the two beers are similar in style, name, and color.

Beyond these, Lift Bridge alleges that Lucette is using similar colors and trade dress to market Farmer’s Daughter, thereby increasing confusion among consumers and hurting the protected mark and brand. While healthy competition is good for a vibrant marketplace, it seems that the act Lift Bridge is most concerned about is Lucette’s alleged marketing tactics. Lift Bridge claims that representatives from Lucette have been “encouraging Twin Cities bars to replace Farm Girl with Farmer’s Daughter” and further claim that Twin Cities bars have started “announcing the debut of Lucette’s ‘Farm Girl Spiced Blonde Ale.’”

Given that these are newer businesses competing in a quickly saturating market, it will be interesting to see if the companies create a war chest and go for full-throated litigation, or they decide to resolve their differences quickly. Who knows, they might just have their own beer summit.

[Editor’s Note:  Veteran Minnesota Litigator readers will recall the Battle of the Bubbly.  It will be interesting to see if there are any other parallels besides the letter “B,” alcohol, and trademark.  I also note that Lift Bridge is represented by Jeffrey C. O’Brien of the Twin Cities’ Lommen Abdo firm, among other Lommen Abdo lawyers.  Mr. O’Brien’s hops’n’barley expertise is rich, frothy, and widely known (to his Twitter followers, that is) (He also has a dedicated beer web page.  He also puts out his own newspaper (?!)).]

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