LOS ANGELES (CN) – Global beer giant Anheuser-Busch must face claims it unlawfully appropriated the brand and environmentalist identity of outdoor clothier Patagonia when it produced a beer by the same name, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Founded in the 1960s, the California-based Patagonia is a leading developer and retailer of outdoor sports apparel and gear. The company has gained recognition for its work to stem the use of pesticides in conventional cotton production and pledging money for environmentalist causes, including donating $10 million from Black Friday sales in 2016.
Under Patagonia Provisions, a related company launched in 2012, the company also sells environmentally friendly goods such as jerky, granola, salmon and beer.
In April, Patagonia sued Anheuser-Busch claiming the brewer began selling “Patagonia Beer” under the shadow business name Patagonia Brewing Company and in bottles featuring a logo strikingly similar to Patagonia’s mountain backdrop design.
Anheuser-Busch launched the beer at a Colorado ski resort, where employees clad in black down jackets handed out Patagonia logo scarves and beanies to customers and said the beer was part of its “tree positive” mission.
“In short, Anheuser-Busch has done everything possible to make it appear as though this Patagonia beer is sold by Patagonia,” the complaint says, adding that Anheuser-Busch is trying to “confuse consumers” by claiming to hold similar environmentalist values.
Patagonia also claims Anheuser-Busch submitted false evidence to the U.S Patent and Trademark Office in order to obtain a “Patagonia” trademark previously held – and unused – by German beermaker Warsteiner.
Anheuser-Busch moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the “Patagonia” mark is not sufficiently “famous” or widely disseminated to qualify for federal trademark protections.
But U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips disagreed, writing in a 20-page order Tuesday that Patagonia has – at this stage in the proceedings – sufficiently shown its mark is both “famous and distinctive” and that promotion of its brand has factored in its $10 billion in sales since 1985.
“Assuming these allegations are true and construing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that its Patagonia mark is “famous” for purposes of its federal trademark dilution,” Philips wrote.
Anheuser-Busch’s attorney Bobby Ghajar of the Cooley law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a statement, a spokesperson for the brewer said its Patagonia beer came to the United States from Argentina.
“As we’ve previously shared, Cerveza Patagonia beer was first brewed more than 10 years ago in Argentina. In 2012, Cerveza Patagonia beer was brought to the U.S., and we have owned the trademark since then. We stand behind our brand and we look forward to presenting these facts and defending our trademark rights,” the Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said.
Phillips also denied Anheuser-Busch’s request to dismiss on grounds that Patagonia failed to show that customers would associate their beer with its clothing and its brand of environmentalism. The brewer likewise failed in its argument that it had not abandoned the Cerveza Patagonia mark from Warsteiner despite not using the mark for five years.
Rob Tadlock, a member of Patagonia’s legal team, applauded Phillips’ ruling as “a well-reasoned opinion rejecting Anheuser-Busch’s effort to avoid defending Patagonia’s claims, including that Anheuser-Busch committed fraud on the Trademark Office and has deliberately tried to confuse customers into thinking that Patagonia Cerveza is produced by Patagonia, rather than Anheuser-Busch.”