Lagunitas Brewing is rarely in a position to get kicked around, partly because of its size and partly because of the larger-than-life personality of founder Tony Magee, but the brewery had to back down this week after an Atlanta-based brewery demanded that it stop using the term “420” on its labels. Those of you In The Know already know that “420” is a barely disguised code phrase for marijuana, and Tony has sprinkled the term liberally around his labels and marketing over the years, particularly on his The Waldos’ Special Ale, which he brews every year for April 20 celebrations (4/20. See?). Tony’s also never been afraid to talk about his enthusiasm for marijuana and has even gotten in trouble for it once in a while.
It is slightly surprising, however, that someone owns a trademark on using “420” in a beer context. But they do. That would be Sweetwater Brewing of Atlanta, who sent Tony a letter this week demanding that he stop using the term on his label because they have a trademarked beer called 420 Extra Pale Ale (They also own the trademark on 420 IPA but it doesn’t appear they produce that at the moment).Via his eccentric Twitter feed, Tony agreed to the change, but not before declaring the founder of Sweetwater “a dweeb” for not calling him to discuss personally.
This kind of trademark dispute isn’t new – in fact, Lagunitas and a couple of other breweries in the area have been on both sides of the trademark fight over the years, including the famous resolution between Russian River and Avery Brewing over the name “Salvation.” The breweries concluded that there was room in the market for both beers and created the joint production called “Collaboration not Litigation,” which they still brew from time to time.
Here’s an interesting story from the radio show “Here and Now” about how some similar disputes are playing out in Colorado.
But of course, weed isn’t all fun and games, as this unfortunate (and ill-advised) soul discovered.