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Rockford Brewing embroiled in suit over name

Illinois brewery challenges the use of ‘Rockford.’

January 31, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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When Seth Rivard and his partners began thinking about opening a brewery in Rockford, they considered calling the company Rogue River Brewing.

But the trio — including Rivard, Jeff Sheehan and Brien Dews — knew that name would create legal issues with Rogue Brewing Co. in Oregon. 

So they did their due diligence and started the trademark process for Rockford Brewing Co. in 2011. Rivard said the company was incorporated in 2011, and plans were made for such activities as mug clubs. The brewery opened its doors in December 2012. 

Now, the company has been sued by Rockford Brewing in Rockford, Ill., for use of the name, and the suit is slated for a court date this month.

Rivard said he caught wind of the Illinois company’s plan to open in 2013. Before long, the Illinois brewery started aggressively pursuing the trademark rights. The Michigan company soon received indication that the Illinois company would push for the entirety of name usage. So Rivard said he and his partners put their foot down and sent a cease-and-desist letter in November.

“They felt they had rights because they had purchased the historic, 100-plus-year-old Rockford Brewing building,” Rivard said. “Although that was a trademark given, it died. They didn’t receive it.”

It also gets “sticky,” Rivard said, because laws state that generic names, such as Rockford, can’t be trademarked.

Still, the Illinois company filed the lawsuit in January, which could force Rivard to defend the Michigan brewery’s name in court.

He said he and his partners hope to settle the issue out of court, and negotiations are ongoing.

Rivard said meanwhile there has been a lot of brand confusion, as his company orders supplies and equipment from across the globe. Recently, purchases have been made by both companies in Illinois, leading to address confusion.

Furthermore, the Michigan brewery is currently in talks for distribution in Chicago, Rivard said, which could lead to even more brand confusion.

Despite the legal issues, Rivard said the brewery is in good position, and a new beer has been doing exceptionally well. Since its release, Paradigm Pale Ale has quickly become its top seller. The brew is an all-Michigan Pale Ale, or MPA, made with 100 percent Michigan hops and malt, and has overtaken Hoplust IPA as the brewery’s top seller, according to Rivard.

“We’re really excited about that,” he said. “We are trying to get other Michigan breweries to do MPAs too.”

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