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The Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Reuters/Rick Wilking
On defense.
TROUBLE'S BREWING

Patagonia’s trademark lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch is still brewing

By Marc Bain

Anheuser-Busch—the beer monster behind brands such as Budweiser, Michelob, Stella Artois, and many others—will have to defend itself against claims by Patagonia that it misappropriated the outdoor company’s brand, a federal judge has ruled.

At the center of the case is the “Patagonia” brand beer that Anheuser-Busch recently introduced in the US. According to Patagonia, the logo is strikingly similar to its own mountainous mark—a fact it noticed because of launch events Anheuser-Busch held at Colorado ski resorts. At the events, salespeople wore black down jackets with the brewer’s Patagonia beer logo and gave out products such as t-shirts and beanies bearing it.

Anheuser-Busch has tried to get the case dismissed. But on Sept. 3, a US district judge denied the motion, Courthouse News reported.

Screenshot from the judge's order
One exhibit from the judge’s order.

Patagonia first took legal action in April. While the company is best known for its outdoor gear, it does also offer products such as buffalo jerky, fruit and almond bars, and soup mixes through its label Patagonia Provisions. It even makes beer.

In its complaint against Anheuser-Busch, it accused the company of confusing customers by doing “everything possible to make it appear as though this PATAGONIA beer is sold by Patagonia.” The brewer, it claimed, went so far as to copy its environmentally friendly brand identity by setting up a pop-up store where it promoted Patagonia Brewing’s “tree positive” mission and pledging to plant a tree for every case of beer purchased.

Screenshot from the judge's order
Another exhibit from the order.

Patagonia acknowledges that, as it relates to beer at least, Anheuser-Busch did have a trademark on “Patagonia.” (Trademark protections apply within specific areas of commerce.) Even so, it alleges that the brewer got it by giving false evidence to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

As the court filings tell it, back in 2006, the German brewer Warsteiner—a competitor of Anheuser-Busch—applied to trademark “Patagonia” in relation to beer. To secure that mark, Warsteiner had to show it was actually using it. For years, as legally permitted, it kept requesting extensions to submit that proof. On July 17, 2012, four days before its time finally ran out, an Anheuser-Busch attorney filed a “statement of use” on behalf of Warsteiner showing a single bottle of “Patagonia” beer. In early 2013, the USPTO received paperwork to transfer the “Patagonia” trademark from Warsteiner to Anheuser-Busch.

“After letting its fraudulently obtained trademark registration lie unused for six years, [Anheuser-Busch] recently adopted the fictitious business name ‘Patagonia Brewing Co.’ and launched an intensive marketing campaign to ‘introduce’ its PATAGONIA beer to American consumers,” Patagonia claimed in its April complaint.

Anheuser-Busch, meanwhile, has offered a different account. “As we’ve previously shared, Cerveza Patagonia beer was first brewed more than 10 years ago in Argentina,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”

It also sought to get the case dismissed, arguing that the “Patagonia” mark wasn’t famous or widely used enough to meet the standard for trademark protection. The judge on the case disagreed.