“Trademark infringement cases are very common, particularly with bigger brands, because they’ve spent millions and millions of dollars developing goodwill with customers,” said Darin M. Klemchuk, managing partner at Klemchuk LLP, a Dallas law firm that specializes in intellectual property cases. “They want to be very protective of competitors getting too close and taking a free ride on that goodwill.”
Patagonia’s filing states that Anheuser-Busch promoted its new Patagonia beer by setting up booths made of reclaimed wood at Colorado ski resorts where Patagonia’s “ski apparel is widely used and universally recognized.” Sales workers at those booths wore black down jackets featuring the beer’s Patagonia logo, the lawsuit says, while passing out branded gear similar to the products that Patagonia sells “in the very towns where [Anheuser-Busch] has launched its beer.”
Anheuser-Busch did not respond to requests for comment.
The question at hand, according to legal experts, is whether consumers were led to mistakenly believe that Patagonia was somehow connected to, or collaborating on, Anheuser-Busch’s Patagonia beer.
“The similar packaging design certainly adds to the confusion, as does a marketing strategy that’s about planting trees and being good to Mother Earth,” said Steven Weinberg, an intellectual property lawyer in California who focuses on branding and licensing. “Anheuser-Busch has a very tough job in defending itself in this lawsuit.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Anheuser-Busch “fraudulently obtained” a trademark for Patagonia beer in 2012 and let it sit unused for six years.
Patagonia the retailer, meanwhile, has been selling its own beer, Long Root Ale, through its food-and-beverage arm, Patagonia Provisions, since 2016. The company uses the Kernza grain in its beer instead of barley, and says in the lawsuit that an Anheuser-Busch representative recently contacted Patagonia Provisions for an “interview” about how Kernza is used in its ale.
Patagonia, founded in California in the late 1960s, has become a billion-dollar company known for its environmental activism and focus on worker well-being. In late 2017, the retailer sued President Trump after he moved to scale back the size of protected national lands. Last week, it doubled down on its do-good mission — and sent a shock wave through Wall Street and Silicon Valley — when it said it would limit the sale of corporate-logo vests to “mission-driven companies that prioritize the planet.”
Three years ago, Anheuser-Busch settled with the Lumbee Native American Tribe in North Carolina for allegedly using the tribe’s logo and its motto “Heritage, Pride & Strength” in ads promoting its beers. The Belgium-based beer giant last year posted revenue of $54.6 billion.