Outdoor apparel company Patagonia has sued Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser’s parent company, for trademark infringement over a beer line using the same name.
This week, outdoor apparel company Patagonia filed a lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch InBev, Budweiser’s parent company. Their lawsuit claims that the beer company’s Patagonia beer infringes its trademark in “Patagonia.” In addition, Patagonia alleges that AB InBev diluted Patagonia’s trademark and engaged in unfair competition.
One of Patagonia’s core arguments is that AB InBev took advantage of the apparel company’s goodwill and reputation in marketing its product. Not only is AB InBev using the same name, “Patagonia,” for its beer, but it also uses a logo incorporating mountains that shares some similarities to Patagonia’s mountain silhouette logo. To make matters worse, the Patagonia beer was launched at ski resorts where Patagonia ski apparel is popular. Further, the beer’s advertising campaign stated it would plant a tree for every beer sold, which is striking considering that Patagonia has a reputation for being an environmentally friendly company.
As a term, Patagonia refers to the southern tip of South America that is shared between Chile and Argentina. Since it is a geographical term, it is no surprise that many companies incorporate “Patagonia” into their names. According to Patagonia’s website, the sports apparel company decided to name itself after the region since it was “a name like Timbuktu or Shangri-La, far-off, interesting, not quite on the map.” Patagonia has had a registered trademark in “Patagonia” and its accompanying logo for outdoor apparel since 1984.
One core component of a trademark infringement claim is whether a trademark is used in a manner that is likely to cause confusion. The key factors courts use in a likelihood of confusion analysis is the similarity of the marks at issue and “whether the parties’ goods and/or services are sufficiently related that consumers are likely to assume (mistakenly) that they come from a common source”. Patagonia has done a good job at showing that the trademarks look similar, but they have a more difficult argument to show that their products are sufficiently related.
AB InBev is likely to respond to Patagonia’s claims by arguing that their beer is in a totally different market than Patagonia’s apparel. Consumers would not be likely to confuse outdoor apparel with beer. Indeed, a quick search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database reveals that there are a number of registered trademarks where “Patagonia” is used with different types of products. Yet, Patagonia’s lawsuit points to a number of similarities in marketing strategies, including the sale of Patagonia beer in ski resorts where Patagonia apparel is heavily worn, as well as the beer’s mention of environmental issues.
Interestingly enough, both companies are technically competing in the same market. AB InBev received a trademark in 2012 to sell beer under the “Patagonia” name, though they never did so in the United States. The Patagonia Brewing Company in question sold its goods in Argentina and did not expand into the United States until 2018. However, in the time between AB InBev’s trademark and its actual sale of beer in the United States, Patagonia apparel actually entered the beer market in 2016 with its own Long Root Pale Ale. Patagonia even has evidence that AB InBev contacted the apparel company about its Long Root Ale, showing that AB InBev knew that Patagonia was in the beer market. This evidence further strengthens Patagonia’s claim of trademark infringement.
Still, even though Patagonia sports apparel has a good case, AB InBev is sure to fight this lawsuit. In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for AB InBev stated: “We are aware of this lawsuit and believe it to be without merit. We will vigorously defend our trademark rights.” Given the high profiles of both companies involved, this is sure to be a contentious lawsuit that could continue for years to come.
Photo Credit: Patagonia and Instacart, edited by Alex Betschen
Alex Betschen is a graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Law. He was a student attorney at UB’s Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic, where he worked on cases involving government disclosure of private information and use of hacking tools. He also served as an Editor on the Buffalo Law Review and is an accomplished musician.