What’s in a Name?

You may have seen the billboards as you’re driving I-95. There’s a new beer in town, and it’s called Patagonia. The name alone conjures thoughts of high adventure, trekking through distant mountains, Sherpas laden with mountain gear and heroic explorers standing askimbo before their intended conquests. It probably also reminds you of a certain clothing company known to make apparel for those adventurers. Thing is, Patagonia (the beer) has nothing to do with Patagonia (the apparel company). And Patagonia (the apparel company) is spittin’ mad about it.

Who’s behind Patagonia beer? None other than the biggest beer purveyor in the land: Anheuser-Busch InBev. In a move Patagonia (apparel) is challenging in a lawsuit, AB InBev acquired trademark rights to the name in 2012. To make matters worse, in the eyes of the clothier, the beer multinational is using a logo strikingly similar to the silhouetted mountain peaks on Patagonia garments.

And the treachery doesn’t stop there. AB InBev has taken to marketing its Patagonia (beer) at ski resorts where Patagonia (apparel) is entrenched as a valued and trusted brand. The beer is being sold in pop-up shops by brand ambassadors sporting beer branded black jackets. To further muddy the waters, all kinds of Patagonia (beer) branded merch are hawked. There are now at least a dozen Patagonia brews.

AB InBev has also tried to position Patagonia (beer) as an environmentally conscious brand. Billboards vaunt the claim that, for every case of the brew sold, a tree is planted. It’s another tactic that blurs the line between the beer and the clothing company, which is—surprise!—recognized as an advocate for environmental causes.

Patagonia (apparel) execs are so incensed by Patagonia (beer) that they have filed suit in California, asking the court to find that the beer behemoth has impinged on their trademark and, in doing so, has diluted their brand. They also allege that AB InBev should never have been able to trademark the Patagonia name. The clothing company seeks restitution to the tune of all profits made by AB InBev on the strength of the Patagonia name (plus punitive damages and legal fees).

“AB has done everything possible to make it appear as though this Patagonia beer is sold by Patagonia,” writes the clothier in its lawsuit. AB InBev “tried to connect its beer with environmental conservation by claiming to plant a tree for each case of beer sold, an initiative that Patagonia would welcome but for the fact that AB is clearly attempting to copy Patagonia’s famous brand identity to confuse consumers.”

In 2016, Patagonia launched its own Long Root Pale Ale under its Patagonia Provisions label. This first release was recently followed by a Belgian-style wit brew. It’s brewed with coriander, orange peel and an unusual grain which is sustainably farmed. In the lawsuit, Patagonia claims that AB InBev had a representative contact its brewers about the perrennial grain.

Only time will tell which company will prevail in the eyes of the law. But in the court of popular opinion, AB InBev isn’t making many friends—especially in the already competitve craft beer community.