Not Your Father's trademark court fight brewing over hard root beer labeling

By Dana Herra | Nov 30, 2015

The makers of Not Your Father’s Root Beer are arguing a tweak in the generation is not enough to differentiate a competitor’s slogan from their trademark.

Small Town Brewery LLC, the maker of the sweet alcoholic beverage Not Your Father’s Root Beer, is suing Sprecher Brewing Company Inc. over Sprecher’s use of the phrase “Not Your Granddaddy’s Root Beer” on the packaging for its take on hard root beer.

Wauconda-based Small Town Brewery filed suit against Sprecher, of Glendale, Wis., on Nov. 25 in federal court in Chicago. In the suit, Small Town Brewery asks the court to stop Sprecher from using phrases similar to “Not Your…” in marketing its beverages. The brewery business also demands monetary damages, treble damages, punitive damages, court costs and interest. The amounts of damages are to be settled at trial, according to the suit. 

Not Your Father’s Root Beer, a root beer-flavored ale, is among Small Town Brewery’s most successful products, according to court documents. The company began selling the beverage in Chicago in 2012, and now distributes in multiple markets, where it is among a growing trend in soda-flavored alcoholic beverages.

According to court documents, Small Town owns the trademark rights to Not Your Father’s and to Not Your Mom’s. Other products in the Not Your Father’s line include Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale and Not Your Father’s Vanilla Cream Ale, while Not Your Mom’s products include Not Your Mom’s Apple Pie, Not Your Mom’s French Toast and Not Your Mom’s Strawberry Rhubarb.

In 2013, Sprecher introduced its own alcoholic root beer, Sprecher Fire Brewed Hard Root Beer, according to court documents. Sprecher sells its bottles of hard root beer in four-packs, with the phrase “Not Your Granddaddy’s Root Beer” printed on the side panel, according to the lawsuit. The phrase also appears on the boxes the root beer is shipped in.

In April of this year, Sprecher also filed a trademark application for “Not Your Grandma’s Apple Pie,” which it intended to use to market an apple-flavored beer, according to the lawsuit.

In the suit, Small Town claims Sprecher is deliberately causing confusion among consumers, who may find the products being sold side-by-side in many retail locations.

“The phrase ‘Not Your Granddaddy’s Root Beer’ is nearly identical to Small Town’s ‘Not Your Father’s Root Beer’ mark,” the lawsuit claims. “Defendant’s actions have resulted in, and will continue to result in, substantial and irreparable harm to Small Town and to consumers.”

The lawsuit claims Small Town has lost profits to Sprecher because of the confusion, and goes on to say “the harm … is not fully compensable by money damages. Small Town has suffered and continues to suffer irreparable harm that has no adequate remedy at law.”

Small Town has filed federal charges of infringement of a federally registered trademark and federal unfair competition and false designation of origin, and state charges of deceptive trade practices, consumer fraud and deceptive business practices, and unfair competition.

Small Town has requested a jury trial. The plaintiff is being represented by attorneys Peter M. de Jonge, Jed H. Hansen and Eric E. Westerberg, of Thorpe North & Western, of Salt Lake City, and attorneys Kevin W. Guynn, Justin R. Gaudio and Jessica L. Bloodgood, of Greer, Burns & Crain, of Chicago.

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Greer Burns & Crain Thorpe North & Western LLP

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