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Beer Trademark Infringement: Magic Hat v. West Sixth

By Eric Misterovich

What happens when you turn a “#9” upside down?  You get a “6”!  And a lawsuit for trademark infringement!  According to Vermont-based brewery, Magic Hat, the use of a “6” inside of a circle by the Kentucky-based West Sixth Brewery creates a likelihood of confusion under the trademark infringement test.

Magic Hat was founded in 1994 in South Burlington, Vermont and is most well-known for its flagship beer, “9”.  Magic Hat has been brewing and selling #9 since at least 1995.  The #9 beer is easily recognizable by its trademarked logo, which is an orange circle around a stylized “#9” with a starburst dingbat inside the number.

West Sixth Brewery is an up and coming brewery founded in Lexington, Kentucky just over a year ago.  West Sixth’s logo also includes a circle with a stylized “6” where the circle forms the left side of the “6” and also includes a starburst dingbat within the circle.  However, West Sixth claims that its starburst is a compass and that the #6 is “west” of the compass.

The trademark dispute between the two breweries originated last September when Magic Hat sent a letter to West Sixth alleging that West Sixth’s logo infringes on Magic Hat’s trademark.  At the heart of Magic Hat’s allegations of infringement is that West Sixth’s use of the encircled “6” with a starburst creates a likelihood of confusion for consumers with Magic Hat’s #9 beer.

West Sixth responded by noting that the encircled “6” logo is actually not its full logo.  West Sixth stated that its full logo includes “WEST SIXTH BREWERY” around the top of its logo.  Therefore, no likelihood of confusion is created by its logo.  Furthermore, West Sixth does not include a pound (#) sign in its logo like #9.

To hopefully avoid litigation, the two breweries actively communicated back and forth over several months with the goal of finding a way to amicably resolve their dispute.  However, talks between the two breweries broke down over the inclusion of the starburst dingbat and requirements of including “WEST SIXTH BREWERY” around the “6” logo.

Magic Hat is seeking for West Sixth to remove the starburst dingbat from the logo or substitute it for an alternate design that Magic Hat deems acceptable.  Additionally, Magic Hat wants West Sixth to always include the name of its brewery around or in close proximity to the “6” logo.

West Sixth disagrees that its logo creates any likelihood of confusion with Magic Hat and apparently changed its mind about removing or redesigning the starburst dingbat in its logo.

When West Sixth decided not to remove or alter its starburst dingbat, Magic Hat decided to take legal action and filed a complaint in United States District Court alleging that West Sixth infringed its trademark.

West Sixth did not respond well to the complaint and has since started a social media campaign against Magic Hat.  However, based on recent posts on its website, West Sixth again appears willing to redesign its starburst dingbat with several proposed alternatives.

Whether the parties will settle their differences out of court remains to be seen.  What do you think?  Is West Sixth’s logo similar enough to Magic Hat’s #9 to create a likelihood of confusion?  You can view a side-by-side comparison here.

If you need help registering, protecting, or enforcing your trademark, or if you have questions about trademark law, contact one of the experienced trademark lawyers at Revision Legal.

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