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Friday, 21 August 2015 10:18

Kalamazoo Beer Exchange resolves trademark dispute with North Carolina tech firm

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KALAMAZOO — A little over a month after the owners of Kalamazoo Beer Exchange filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against a North Carolina tech firm, the two companies have settled their differences out of court.

In the case, Beer Exchange LLC, which does business as Kalamazoo Beer Exchange at 211 East Water St., said Bexio LLC’s use of the Instagram handle “thebeerexchange” to promote its Beer Exchange mobile application was an infringement on its trademarked name, as MiBiz reported earlier this month.

The username was also identical to the one that the Kalamazoo-based company uses on Twitter. However, Kalamazoo Beer Exchange did not have an active account on Instagram.

The pub’s owners documented numerous cases of confusion in the marketplace where people thought they were communicating with the firm that developed the app, which allows aficionados to trade craft beer with one another. The consumer confusion included Twitter postings of Instagram images featuring beer merchandise giveaways from Bexio that were mistakenly tagged with the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange username.

Beer Exchange filed a lawsuit on July 15 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan after initially sending a cease-and-desist letter to Bexio and receiving an unsatisfactory response.

Despite some initial pushback in Bexio’s response to the cease-and-desist letter, both companies came to an agreement “very amicably,” Bexio founder and CEO Mark Iafrate told MiBiz.

Instead of relying on attorneys and being faced with the legal fees that follow litigation, Bexio opted to reach out directly to executives at the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange to settle the matter themselves.

“No one is rolling in dough, so why spend thousands on an attorney when you pick up the phone and get their perspective?” Iafrate said.

In the agreement, Bexio agreed to discontinue its use of the “thebeerexchange” Instagram handle and transfer it to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, Iafrate said. Bexio also changed its Instagram username to BeerExchangeIO.

The company announced the changes on its website and social media accounts, where it tagged the posts with the “#BrewDontSue” hashtag.

Calls to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange regarding the settlement were not returned.

“What it boiled down to was that they owned the mark, they wanted to grow the business, and there was customer confusion,” Iafrate said. “They were just trying to defend their mark.”

As MiBiz reported earlier this month, attorneys watching the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange/Bexio lawsuit said it was an interesting case because it blended intellectual property considerations with the state regulation of how beverage-related companies are allowed to market products.

For example, the types of beer giveaways Bexio offered are not allowed by Michigan law, which could have proved problematic for Kalamazoo Beer Exchange if regulators thought they were involved in the contests from the mistaken social media posts.

Read 2063 times Last modified on Sunday, 30 August 2015 22:39
John Wiegand

Staff writer

[email protected]

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