Updated with West Sixth’s response to Magic Hat at bottom.
The beer world on the internet has been a buzz since yesterday morning. Around 11 am on May 21st West Sixth Brewing, a small craft brewery out of Lexington, posted the following link on their Facebook page and Twitter account: “No More Magic Hat“. Please take a few minutes to go read that, we’ll wait. Ok, everyone back? Great. I’m going forward assuming you’ve read that so if you haven’t, then do so now. That post started off this mini-firestorm of Retweets, Likes, and shares, plus individuals and other craft breweries urging everyone to sign a petition which would be sent to Magic Hat headquarters. In summary, West Sixth is claiming Magic Hat wants them to change their logo, which will put them out of business. There is some merit there; a brand means A LOT. Once you have that recognition built, having to rebuild it could lose you a lot of business. West Sixth also claims multiple times that they “reached out” to Magic Hat and never heard back.
Magic Hat was initially very quiet, then began deleting negative Facebook comments off their Facebok page, which is always a bad move. Around 10 pm on May 21st Magic Hat posted this link on their Facebook page: Claims Made by West Sixth Brewing Co.: Simply Not True. Please go read that and click on all the various gray-highlighted boxes. They are links to letters between Magic Hat and West Sixth.
Here are the two logos; I flipped West Sixth’s so you can better see what the whole deal is about:
Personally I can see what the stink is about and feel that Magic Hat does have some very, very small claim. Remember that many of the logos in question don’t have the “West Sixth Brewing Company Lexington, Kentucky” words around it. While the compass/star/dingbat thing and # are very different, they’re in a similar place. And damn do those numbers look identical, especially with the ball on the tail. Looking closely at these two logos I now see that Magic Hat’s 9 has a star/dingbat thing in the middle of the number. Do I think these are identical? No. Do I think they’re damned close and would “cause consumer confusion as to the source of those goods or as to the sponsorship or approval of such goods”† if said consumer had an upside down can of West Sixth? Possibly. But that’s what the jury will be tasked with now.
I want to take a look at some of the things said in each company’s statements. First off Magic Hat claims it was “blindsided” by the social media forces West Sixth gathered. Magic Hat also claims, and proves (something West Sixth does not do) that they attempted to make contact with West Sixth and, in fact, did receive responses from them. So we can see West Sixth’s claims of never hearing back are bull crap, which to me is disappointing.
A claim made by West Sixth is that Magic Hat wants “all their profits up until this point”. By looking at the letters provided by Magic Hat we can see that it’s not the case. Magic Hat wanted “an accounting of all sales made … so an appropriate royalty could be determined.” West Sixth also say that their logo includes “West Sixth Brewing Company”, which as Magic Hat points out, is not always the case.
Magic Hat offers to allow West Sixth to continue using the number 6 if they remove the star (which they call a “dingbat”) and always include the words “West Sixth Brewing”. Personally this seems like a good option to me as everyone would be happy and West Sixth would be reinforcing it’s brand name via the logo and the words. See below picture from Magic Hat’s provided letters
West Sixth then responds, agreeing to most of those terms and trying to get clarity on a few of them. Magic Hat responds saying they can’t provide clarity until they see West Sixth’s new logo that will replace the dingbat with a compass. More legal banter follows and the agreement basically falls apart due to the cost to West Sixth to replace all the logos and the two sides being unable to agree on what exactly to change.
That last letter was February 27th; no further contact between the two parties is provided so we are left to assume none occurred. Or to assume that one party is with holding it to make themselves appear better. Then on May 16th Magic Hat filed a lawsuit (linkage). I really can’t make too much sense of this through all the legal mumbo jumbo. Those letters sent back and forth were hard enough. But, it’s clear Magic Hat wasn’t happy with the proposed settlements and sued West Sixth over the logo.
However, I can read and do LOVE this: “Plaintiff Magic Hat is one of the largest and most well-recognized craft brewers in the United States.” That’s some funny stuff. You want me to believe Magic Hat is more well known then Stone, Dogfish Head, or Sam Adams?? HAH!
My opinion on all this is that it’s damned fracking nonsense. I really view the issue as the U.S. Patent Office being stupid for allowing a
patent trademark on “#9″. I mean shit, seriously? They patented trademarked #9? And It was approved!
Really to me, in the end, what matters here is beer! I tried Magic Hat’s variety pack last year (my review) and was very unimpressed and didn’t like most of it. I have not yet had any West Sixth, but from what I’m told their IPA should be widely available in the Cincinnati area. I will not be able to try any this week but getting some and reviewing it will be my top priority.
Now, after having read far too much legal-ease it’s time for some music. As soon as I thought to write this post, Jimi Hendrix’s song “If 6 was 9″ popped into my head as the perfect title for this post. Turns out the lyrics fit my view point on this lawsuit pretty damn well too.
Now, if 6 turned up to be 9,
I don’t mind, I don’t mind.
If all the hippies cut off their hair,
I don’t care, I don’t care.
Dig, ‘cos I got my own world to live through
And I ain’t gonna come near you.
Another song also kept running through my brain and if you haven’t read the number 9 enough times already then digg this masterpiece of craziness
Correction: As many people have pointed out I misspoke and this is not a patent issue, it is a trademark issue. I have corrected the mistakes, my apologies for this and my thanks for pointing it out.
Update: West Sixth has posted a response to Magic Hat’s post from last night. West Sixth’s new post can be read here. In short they accuse Magic Hat of ignoring them via letter, phone, and email and accuse Magic Hat of preferring to communicate over Facebook. West Sixth calls Magic Hat out on various claims they made and proposes to settle based on the terms I mentioned before (that is using “West Sixth Brewing” in all logos and changing the compass). West Sixth then goes on to show some of the proposed changes to the logo.