Tribe Beats Beer Behemoth in Trademark Settlement

Trademark_Image

By: Kele Bigknife | Intern | kele.bigknife@procopio.com

Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

In June, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina filed suit in federal court against beer giant, Anheuser-Busch LLC (AB), and one of its distributors R.A. Jeffreys Distributing Co. LLC, alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition, and unfair and deceptive practices. Without the Tribe’s permission, AB and R.A. Jeffreys used the Tribe’s logo mark and slogan mark in promotional material advertising Budweiser and Bud-Light alcohol products at multiple convenience stores near the Lumbee reservation.

The lawsuit claimed that AB’s use of the allegedly infringing marks led to a significant amount of confusion within the community and among consumers, creating a false impression in the minds of the public that the Lumbee Tribe had approved of AB’s products being sold under its logo and slogan. According to the complaint, many members of the Lumbee Tribe found the advertising offensive because alcohol abuse is often associated with Native American communities.

AB and R.A. Jeffreys quickly settled the lawsuit with the Tribe in exchange for a “sizeable donation” to one of the Tribe’s nonprofits, cessation of the advertising campaign, and an apology for the improper use. The Tribe has announced that the settlement money will go towards supporting education and youth programs.

This story is an example that even against a huge multi-billion dollar corporation, a Tribe should fight to protect its valuable intellectual property rights and ensure that a Tribe’s name, customs and culture are not abused for third party financial gain. It also exemplifies the importance of Tribal Governments trademarking their identity to protect their image and expedite resolution when abuse occurs.

Kele Bigknife is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and is entering his third year at the University of Michigan Law School. He is a member of the Editorial Board for the Michigan Business and Entrepreneurial Law Review. Kele is a recipient of the 2016 Procopio Native American Internship.

Ted GriswoldTed is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with him at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.