Preliminary injunction denied in trademark dispute between breweries named for ocean currents. LOW TIDE v. TIDELAND

Preliminary injunction denied in trademark dispute between breweries named for ocean currents. LOW TIDE v. TIDELAND

A trademark is something that a producer of goods or services uses to distinguish their products in the marketplace.  Anything that serves the purpose of telling consumers who produced a product can be eligible for trademark protection.  Trademark law in the United States grants the user of a trademark the right to prevent other people from using a trademark in a way that may cause consumer confusion.  If someone other than the owner of a trademark brands products with a trademark in a way that leads consumers to be confused about the identity of the company that produced the product, that can be considered trademark infringement.  A trademark owner can file a lawsuit to stop trademark infringement with an injunction and to get monetary damages for trademark infringement which has occurred.

Trademark law does not exist in a vacuum.  For a plaintiff in a trademark infringement lawsuit to get the best results, their attorney must be familiar with several other branches of law other than trademark law.  An important aspect of law that an attorney in a trademark infringement case should be familiar with is injunctions.  An injunction is a court order requiring a person to do or cease doing a specific action. There are three types of injunctions: Temporary Restraining Orders, Preliminary Injunctions, and Permanent Injunctions.  Temporary Restraining Orders and Preliminary Injunctions allow a plaintiff to stop trade infringement temporarily while the trial is being held.  A Permanent Injunction can be imposed as part of a verdict if the court finds that money damages will not suffice.

The purpose of a preliminary injunction is merely to preserve the relative positions of the parties until a trial on the merits can be held. A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of the equities tips in his favor, and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest.  A party seeking a preliminary injunction must clearly show that it is likely to succeed on the merits.  A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief.  Applying these rules in the abstract can be confusing, therefore it is helpful to study case law to gain a better understanding of when a plaintiff is entitled to a preliminary injunction.

LOW TIDE BREWING, LLC, vs. TIDELAND MANAGEMENT LLC, 2:21-cv-0775 (D.C.SC 2021) is an example of a case where a trademark plaintiff was not granted a preliminary injunction in a trademark infringement case.

Plaintiff Low Tide opened its brewery and taproom on Johns Island in March 2016.  Plaintiff registered the domain name,, and registered the word mark LOW TIDE BREWING with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).

Defendant Tideland was established in August 2019 and began operating as a craft brewery and taproom in North Charleston in March 2021 under the name “Tideland Brewing”.

The craft brewing community is relatively small and the owners of the two companies traveled in the same social circles.  At some point Defendant told Plaintiff that he was planning on naming his brewery Tideland Brewing, Plaintiff suggested Defendant choose another name.  In October 2020 Defendant announced the opening of “Tideland Brewing” from the social media account of a defunct brewery he used to own. Plaintiff then filed suit asserting claims which included federal trademark infringement and requested a preliminary injunction.  Specifically the Plaintiff requested that the court enjoin the Defendant from “continuing to infringe upon and violating Low Tide’s distinctive and well-known trademarks.”

In its decision, the district court discussed each prong of the test for preliminary injunctions.   The court found that despite being federally registered, Plaintiff’s trademark was not distinctive enough to warrant a preliminary injunction.  Defendant presented evidence of 800 federally registered trademarks, and almost 1000 businesses using the word tide in their name.  Further, Plaintiff did not present evidence of consumer confusion.  Given this evidence the court found plaintiff had not proven he was likely to succeed on the merits and declined to grant a preliminary injunction.

The court denying the preliminary injunction does not mean the case is over, just that not enough evidence was presented for this pretrial motion.  The ultimate outcome of the case will depend on what evidence is presented as the case progresses.

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