Beer producer sued for trademark infringement by clothing manufacturer. PATAGONIA v. ANHEUSER BUSCH

Beer producer sued for trademark infringement by clothing manufacturer. PATAGONIA v. ANHEUSER BUSCH

A trademark is something that indicates to consumers the identity of the producer of a product.  Traditionally a trademark is thought of as a word, phrase or symbol, but anything that is used to brand goods can be eligible for trademark protection. The key to the strength of a trademark is the association consumers make between the trademark and the producer of a product.  If someone other than the senior user of a trademark uses a trademark in a way that is likely to result in consumer confusion about who produced a product that can be considered trademark infringement.  Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of a trademark on or in connection with products in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the products.

Trademark infringement is a complex thing to prove because it involves the association consumers make with a trademark.  United State trademark law allows two different companies to use identical or very similar trademarks simultaneously if the products branded with the trademark are so dissimilar that it is unlikely that consumers will be confused.  However, if a trademark is extremely well known, trademark infringement can be found even when completely different products are branded with the same trademark.

Registration of a trademark helps strengthen the rights associated with a trademark, however trademark registration is not a prerequisite to begin using a trademark in the United States.  Even if a trademark has been registered if another party was already using the trademark in commerce, the person that first used the trademark in commerce has priority over subsequent users of the trademark.

PATAGONIA, INC. v. ANHEUSER BUSCH, LLC, 2:19-cv-02702 (C.D.CA 2019) is a complex case that touches on both dissimilar products and trademark registration.  The plaintiff in this case is Patagonia, a clothing manufacturer that has a long history of being an environmentally conscientious company.  The plaintiffs has sold clothing using the PATAGONIA trademark for 40 years and started selling food products in 2012 through a division named Patagonia Provisions.  In 2016 Patagonia Provisions began selling beer made from grains which are considered environmentally sustainable. The plaintiff’s beer is marketed using the brand Long Roots.

The defendant in this case is Anheuser Busch, and internationally known brewer of beer.  The defendant recently started selling beer branded with the trademark PATAGONIA.  The advertising material which promotes the defendant’s PATAGONIA beer promotes the company’s interest in being environmentally friendly.  The defendant owns U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4,226,102 on the PATAGONIA.  The application for the trademark was originally filed by a competitor in 2006, and was then assigned to the defendant in 2012.  The application was originally filed as an intent to use application which means that the trademark had not been used in commerce.  A statement of use was filed after the trademark application was assigned to the defendant.

The plaintiff filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the defendant in 2019.  The plaintiff alleges that the defendant is attempting to capitalize off the good will the plaintiff has created in the PATAGONIA trademark.  This case presents two main issues for the court to decide, (1) whether the plaintiff’s claim to the PATAGONIA trademark is strong enough to demonstrate that consumers would be confused into thinking the defendant’s beer is produced by the plaintiff, (2) whether the defendant has a valid trademark registration.

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