CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The battle over beer busted into the U.S District Court in North Carolina on Wednesday.
Sycamore Brewing's website says the taproom in Charlotte opened on Nov. 1, 2014. Since that time, the company claims to have grown into the largest Charlotte-based brewery and a top brewery in North Carolina. The company says at the current trajectory, it anticipates being the largest independent brewery in the Carolinas by 2023.
The lawsuit says Sycamore Brewing distributes alcohol in seven other states and one of the most popular beers is Juiciness IPA.
In 2020, the company started marketing the IPA with the slogan "Keep It Juicy" displayed on retail packaging boxes.
According to the lawsuit, Sycamore owns the name. A trademark for "Keep It Juicy" was officially registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Aug. 24, 2021.
On Wednesday, lawyer Marc Randazza argued in court there is going to be "consumer confusion" over the two beers. He expressed his client's concerns that, for example, someone could drink Stone Brewery beer, not enjoy it and then would end up not buying Sycamore beer because of the name confusion.
"We are here because Sycamore had a trademark, and Stone copied it," Randazza said in court.
In March, Stone Brewing switched up the packing on its beer to include the slogan.
According to Randazza, Sycamore sought out an injunction, requesting the slogan "Keep It Juicy" be scrubbed from Stone's online content. The injunction also demanded the product be removed from shelves and distributors go out to all stores and display corrective signs about the product.
Douglas Curran, who represented Stone Brewing Company in court, maintained Sycamore asked too much of Stone.
“Sycamore is asking for extraordinary relief and this is not that," Curran said.
Curran argued there are 27 other beers in the country with the word “juicy” in its name. He argued "juicy" is too broad of a trademark to hold. He maintained the word describes the taste of several beers and not just the Sycamore beer.
Judge Frank Whitney contended that "juicy" and "Keep It Juicy" are entirely different.
Randazza argued the suit they filed is protected by the Trademark Act 1A passed in 1905. Curran urged the judge to consider a court case involving cookies: Lance Manufacturers vs. Voortman Cookies. In that case, the court allowed an injunction but the manufacturer was also allowed to sell the current cookies still on the market.
Whitney ruled that Stone Brewery is allowed to sell the rest of the current Stone "juicy" beer already out in the market with the branding “Keep It Juicy” on the box. However, Whitney said Stone Brewery must cover up the labels on boxes with white labels to ensure there will not be any sort of “consumer confusion."
A $50,000 bond must be issued first before an injunction is filed.
A trial is now set for the late summer or early fall, most likely before September.