West Sixth Brewing Company of Lexington, Kentucky is being sued by Vermont-based Magic Hat’s parent company, Cerveceria Costa Rica, for trademark infringement – Magic Hat claims that West Sixth has copied their #9 beer logo. One has to admit that the similarities are clear, but an all-out internet brawl has erupted between the two companies and it’s hard to say who’s in the right.
Magic Hat says that they had been working with West Sixth on revising their marketing materials for months when West suddenly launched a social media campaign aiming to damage the Magic Hat brand. According to a press release issued by Magic Hat, they wanted four things from West Sixth, and the smaller brewer supposedly agreed to the terms:
1. Remove the design element that mirrors Magic Hat’s #9 starburst/dingbat star packaging;
2. Use and promote the wording West Sixth Brewing in conjunction with the design (Magic Hat agrees that this will help eliminate confusion);
3. Work in good faith to phase out and replace any existing materials that may contain the prior version of the encircled “6” design;
4. Amend its current federal trademark application or re-file the application with the new design.
“After months of working with them, they abruptly changed their minds and refused to take the simplest steps to avoid confusion and a lawsuit,” said Ryan Daley, brand manager of Magic Hat. “Unfortunately, we have no other option but to pursue legal action that protects the uniqueness of our brand. We notified West Sixth Brewing and they immediately began a smear campaign to pressure us to drop the lawsuit. This is all very unfortunate since they could have prevented it by living up to the commitments they made.”
West Sixth says Cerveceria Costa Rica is demanding all of the company’s first year profits in an act of corporate bullying.
“They’re claiming that we intentionally copied their logo, and that has caused them ‘irreparable harm,’ enough that they’re asking for not only damages but also all our profits up until this point,” the brewery writes on their petition web page “No More Magic Hat,” which has already garnered close to 17,000 signatures.
West Sixth says Cerveceria Costa Rica is demanding all of the company’s first year profits
in an act of corporate bullying.
West Sixth also says that they are willing to meet Magic Hat’s requests for their marketing materials, save for item number one:
“In your public response, you indicated you would be happy with a settlement that includes the 4 clauses you outlined,” West Sixth writes on their website. We pretty much agreed in our last letter to do items 2-4, which were:
2) Including our name around our logo in future items
3) Phasing out any merchandise that doesn’t include the words “West Sixth Brewing” in close proximity to our logo
4) Amend our current federal trademark to include something different from the compass
What we had a concern with was number 1, replacing our compass with a different symbol in exchange for agreeing that we would never use the numeral “6”. We just don’t think your trademark rights in the numeral “9” allow you to keep out any competitor who uses the numeral “6”. Our address is 501 West Sixth Street –hence our name. We’re not trying to use any of your designs. Heck, we already distribute a lot more beer than you do in Kentucky.”
The two companies are continuing to issue press releases and advocate for their respective brands via social media. This tussle between brewers magnifies the ongoing debates within the beer industry on how to define craft beer and what the Brewer’s Association calls the difference between “craft and crafty” beer. We’ll see what becomes of Magic Hat’s lawsuit – it looks as though West Sixth is rallying consumer support, which could pressure Magic Hat into dropping the suit – or it could be that West Sixth is digging itself an even bigger hole by turning consumers against Magic Hat; their petition could serve as proof that Magic Hat’s brand has indeed been damaged.