Home / Business / ‘Deceived and confused’: Muskoka Brewery sues Molson for using image of Muskoka chair on t-shirt

‘Deceived and confused’: Muskoka Brewery sues Molson for using image of Muskoka chair on t-shirt

An Ontario craft brewery is suing Molson Coors Canada for trademark infringement over the brewing giant’s depiction of a popular style of cottage country chair in a recent promotion.

Executives at Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery Inc. said they heard word last week from their sales reps in the field that the Molson Canadian brand was using a picture of a Muskoka chair on freebie t-shirts.

“It caught everybody off guard,” said Todd Lewin, president of the company, better known as Muskoka Brewery. The independent brewer, based in cottage country north of Toronto, has a registered trademark for a Muskoka chair, part of its logo. And the Molson t-shirts, Lewin said, posed a problem.

“We felt we had to act.”

On Thursday, Muskoka announced it had filed the lawsuit, which calls for Molson to destroy or hand over the t-shirts, the beer boxes they come inside and anything else depicting the Muskoka chair.

“This use of the Infringing Chair Mark has deceived and confused the public in Canada,” reads a statement of claim served to Molson Coors on Thursday.

In a short statement, Molson Coors said it was aware of the trademark claim about “the use of an Adirondack chair image on a t-shirt available in select cases of Molson Canadian.”

The version used in Molson’s t-shirts present a head-on view of the chair on a deck with a beer bottle resting on the arm.

Muskoka’s version gives a side view of the chair with a beer bottle on its arm.

“The trademark that we had registered with the government of Canada is the Muskoka chair,” Lewin said, suggesting that the angle was not the issue.

… when another brewery starts using an image that’s similar, they think it will create consumer confusion

Tamara Ramsey, Muskoka Brewery lawyer

Muskoka’s concern with the t-shirt, he said, was that a customer would see the chair and assume some connection between the two brands — believing, perhaps, that another independent craft brewer had been bought out by a multinational beer conglomerate.

“We definitely would lose a big segment of our beer drinkers and our fans,” Lewin said. “Molson Coors has a history of acquiring independent craft breweries.”

Carys Craig, a professor specializing in intellectual property at Osgoode Hall law school, said registering a trademark doesn’t give the company exclusive rights to all Muskoka chairs. In trademark law, companies can register trademarks on certain images used in certain streams of commerce — in this case, alcoholic beverages.

“It’s not as direct as being able to say no one else can use a Muskoka chair in connection with beer in Canada,” Craig said. But trademark holders can stop others from using a “confusing mark.”

“They have to argue that people would be confused if they saw a different picture of a Muskoka chair,” she said. “They would (have to) be confused into thinking it was associated with Muskoka brewery.”

According to Muskoka’s lawyer, Tamara Ramsey, the question for the court is whether “a consumer, somewhat in a hurry, seeing the shirt would associate it with Muskoka Brewery.”

“The image of the Muskoka chair is closely associated with their brand, they’ve been using it since 2011,” she said, “and when another brewery starts using an image that’s similar, they think it will create consumer confusion.”

Molson said Thursday that it plans to evaluate the trademark claim “in detail.”

“We do not have updates or comments to give on the topic,” spokesperson Jessica Teixeira wrote in an email.

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