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Wednesday, 12 August 2015 17:06

LMFAO not laughing at Pigeon Hill Brewing’s product name in trademark dispute

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Pigeon Hill Brewing Co.’s LMFAO Stout Pigeon Hill Brewing Co.’s LMFAO Stout COURTESY PHOTO

MUSKEGON — The latest case in a string of trademark disputes involving West Michigan craft beverage producers didn’t come from a company in the industry, but rather from a pop music group.

The band, which bills itself as an “entertainment phenomenon,” alleges that Muskegon-based Pigeon Hill Brewing Co.’s LMFAO Stout infringes on its trademarked name, according to a cease-and-desist letter sent on Aug. 11.

The letter caught executives at Pigeon Hill off guard as the brewery had researched potential trademark violations in the craft beverage space prior to labeling its beer, said Michael Brower, a co-founder at the brewery.

Pigeon Hill received the request shortly after applying for federal trademark registration for its LMFAO Stout and several other beers to prepare for more widespread distribution, Brower said.

“The first thing we do when we brand a beer is to make sure we search its name,” Brower told MiBiz. “If someone had an LMFAO Brown, obviously we might confuse it. But in this case, it’s definitely interesting to see that crossover where the entertainment world thinks there may be some confusion.”

New York-based law firm Wuersch & Gering LLP issued the letter on behalf of LMFAO and requests that Pigeon Hill “cease using the LMFAO Stout mark and expressly abandon its pending application.”

“We have a very famous mark,” Thilo Agthe, the attorney representing LMFAO, told MiBiz. “We have to be very careful in policing how that trademark is used and by whom. It’s possible that customers that purchase (LMFAO Stout) might associate that with the band.”

Agthe declined to comment on whether the group had specific evidence of customer confusion related to Pigeon Hill’s beer, citing the attorney-client privilege.

More than likely, this dispute represents a simple case of a larger company establishing a history of policing its mark to have a precedent for future trademark infringement cases, said David Edsenga, an intellectual property attorney with Grand Rapids-based Schnelker, Rassi & McConnell PLC.

“The duty to police (trademarks) is probably what’s going on here,” Edsenga said. “I think that their attorneys are worried more about down the line. … It’s not a statutory requirement, but courts weigh it against someone if they’re not out there actively policing (their trademark).”

The trademark dispute against Pigeon Hill comes at the same time that LMFAO is embroiled in a lawsuit with rapper Rick Ross, who claims that the group infringed on his copyright and trademark with their hit song “Party Rock Anthem.”

At Pigeon Hill, since the cease-and-desist letter arrived just a day ago, the brewery hasn’t yet settled on the course of action it plans to take, Brower said.

“Honestly, I’m split right down the middle right now,” Brower said. “I don’t want a legal battle and know how they can drag out. But at the same, it was the first beer we had, so it’s near and dear to us.”

To help aid its decision, Pigeon Hill posted a makeshift survey on its Facebook page asking followers to weigh in on whether the brewery should stand by the name or choose a different moniker.

Pigeon Hill settled on the name for its LMFAO Stout, which stands for “Let Me Fetch An Oatmeal Stout,” after soliciting input from social media to crowdsource the beer’s name, Brower said.

While trademark disputes between craft beverage producers have been commonplace in the industry for some time, companies such as Pigeon Hill are running into challenges outside of the sector as of late.

In mid-July, the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Charlotte, N.C.-based technology company Bexio LLC, as first reported by MiBiz. The suit stemmed from Bexio’s use of the “thebeerexchange” username on Instagram, the same handle Kalamazoo Beer Exchange uses on Twitter.

[RELATED: What’s in a (user)name? Kalamazoo Beer Exchange alleges app maker’s Instagram handle infringes on trademark]

While there have been more outside companies entering trademark disputes with craft beverage producers, Edsenga sees it as a byproduct of all the new entrants in the industry.

“It could just be that as there’s more craft beer, the more you’re going to run into other people with similar names,” Edsenga said. “There are only so many words in the English language.”

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Editor’s note: This story has been changed from its original form to correct the details of how Pigeon Hill came up with the name LMFAO Stout.

Read 7543 times Last modified on Wednesday, 12 August 2015 18:11

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