Logboat Brewing gets trademark infringement lawsuit dismissed

Logboat Brewing gets trademark infringement lawsuit dismissed

Trademarks are intended to protect consumers from inferior quality products.  A trademark is a word phrase or symbol that is used to identify the source of products.  When a company uses a trademark to brand their products, they are granted certain exclusive rights to the trademark.  If someone other than the trademark owner brands products in a way that confuses consumers regarding who produced a product, that can be considered trademark infringement.  A trademark owner can file a lawsuit to get an injunction to stop trademark infringement and to get monetary damages for trademark infringement which has occurred.

Trademarks can be tricky because the value of a trademark is proportional to how strongly consumers associate the trademark with products produced by a company.  Sales and marketing people frequently are frequently involved in the selection and promotion of a trademark.  A significant amount of time money and effort are put into the selection and promotion of a trademark.  Because sales and marketing people are typically not trademark attorneys, it is common for them to think that anything which resembles their trademark is trademark infringement.  This is not true, trademark infringement is a fact specific legal test with several factors to consider.  If a plaintiff in a trademark infringement lawsuit does not provide enough evidence to the court their lawsuit will be dismissed.

A case which illustrates this point is SHIPYARD BREWING CO, LLC v. LOGBOAT BREWING CO, LLC,  2:17-cv-04079 (MO.W.D 2017).  The case revolves around two craft breweries and the way beers are packaged.  Shipyard Brewing is based in Portland Maine and produces craft beer with nautical themed labels.  Shipyard’s beer labels prominently display the company name Shipyard.  Logboat Brewing is based in Columbia, Missouri and produces several different types of beers with whimsical labels.  A family friend of Logboat Brewing painted a picture of a girl whose hair looks like a ship.  Logboat Brewing licensed the image from the artist and used it on a beer named Shiphead.  Shipyard took exception to the name of this beer and sued Logboat Brewing for trademark and tradedress infringement.  In the complaint, Shipyard claimed that Logboat was attempting to confuse consumers with similar beer names and product labels.  No where in the complaint or in the discovery portion of the trial did Shipyard introduce any evidence of actual consumer confusion.

The court sided with Logboat Brewing, and granted a summary judgment in favor of the defendant.   A party to a lawsuit is entitled to summary judgment if the party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence is insufficient; there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably base their findings.  In its decision granting summary judgment in favor of Logboat brewing the court noted that the breweries have geographically different target audiences, there was no evidence that Logboat intended to pass its Shiphead Ginger Wheat beer off as Shipyard beer, and that no evidence of actual consumer confusion was introduced.  Because no reasonable jury could return a verdict for Shipyard on its claims for trademark infringement or tradedress infringement the court was obligated to find for the defendant.

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