This story has apparently been brewing — yeah, I wrote it — since last fall. According to the folks at Vermont-based Magic Hat Brewing Company, a wholesaler in Kentucky alerted them to a new beer being sold in the area by a company called West Sixth Brewing Company. Magic Hat claims the wholesaler didn’t want to stock this beer he believed its logo resembled that of Magic Hat’s #9 beer.
Both logos feature numerals in circles, with some sort of star next to the numeral:
Magic Hat also took issue with West Sixth’s Amber Ale logo, which uses a more orange tone. It believes that the use of orange confuses the matter further. Here is a side-by-side of the two cans for you to decide:
For what it’s worth, the West Sixth logo was chosen by Paste Magazine as one of the 15 best beer label designs in 2012.
“Our first step was to reach out to them. We hoped to handle it amicably,” says Magic Hat in a statement.
In a post on its site, West Sixth takes issue with the wholesaler anecdote:
“Unfortunately, that isn’t true at all. We have two distributors who distribute both us and Magic Hat without any sort of confusion. We’re sorry that this is what you were told. What actually happened between us and your distributor is this: After we had advanced negotiations to sign with your distributor they were told by another brand they carry that they should not distribute our beer.”
West Sixth co-founder Ben Self confirms to Consumerist that his company began receiving cease-and-desist letters from Magic Hat.
“We replied to all of them — the most recent in March,” Self says. “They have not replied to our letter from March. That was why we were surprised with the lawsuit!”
Yes, late last week, Magic Hat filed suit against West Sixth in a U.S. District Court in Lexington, KY.
“We had no desire to file a lawsuit against a fellow brewer,” said a rep for the plaintiff. “We thought we had made a lot of progress with West Sixth. They agreed in principle to modify their design. And now they’re going back on their word, and are attempting to tarnish our image instead.”
West Sixth maintains that it broke no promises and that Magic Hat simply stopped responding to its letters.
Both West Sixth and Magic Hat state that there was progress being made in this back-and-forth, but what exactly was agreed-upon is still up for debate.
Magic Hat claims that four points of agreement were reached, and that West Sixth had consented to:
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;
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.
West Sixth says it was pretty much fine with all of these but #1. It claims that Magic Hat wanted West Sixth to agree to never using 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,’” writes West Sixth. “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.”
West Sixth, which launched a petition on its site to ask Magic Hat to stop the lawsuit, says it doesn’t want to be involved in a lawsuit and that it’s willing to change the compass star in its logo to be something less similar to what is in the #9. All of the proposed logos still feature the numeral 6 and a star:
In response to this latest post, a rep for Magic Hat released the following statement:
“We have seen West Sixth Brewing’s Facebook post and are glad that they are moving back toward their earlier settlement position, rather than away from it. We have always been ready to talk and will reach out to West Sixth to make sure that happens…
“We look forward to confirming that West Sixth intends to approach any further settlement negotiations in good faith. As for Magic Hat, in order to prevent the spread of misinformation that has occurred this week, we do not believe this matter should play out publicly any further and invite West Sixth to make the same commitment.”
We hope the two parties do come to a resolution that doesn’t involve going to court. After all, good beer is supposed to be fun and bring people together for heated discussions about who was the best third baseman of all time (Mike Schmidt), not battles over trademark infringement.