Ravinia Brewing Company Fights To Keep Name, Looks To Dismiss Ravinia Festival Lawsuit

HIGHLAND PARK, IL — The Ravinia Brewing Company on Thursday filed motions to dismiss a revised federal trademark lawsuit from the Ravinia Festival Association over the use of its name of the Highland Park neighborhood they both share.

The brewery first opened in the Ravinia Business District in 2018 following an agreement with the festival under which the nonprofit association that runs the summertime outdoor music festival would not object to the brewery’s name for beer, a brewery or a brew pub.

In October 2023, attorneys for the association filed suit against the brewery, alleging that festival representatives had rescinded the agreement two months earlier. The brewery’s attorneys have separately asked a Cook County judge to enforce the agreement.

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“[Y]ou, unfortunately, have not complied with your end of the Agreement,” Ravinia Board Chair Chris Klein and President and CEO Jeff Hayden told brewery company co-owners Jeff Hoobler and Kris Walker in an Aug. 23 letter.

“Our review of your activities during the 2023 Ravinia Festival season has demonstrated to us the Ravinia Brewing Company has chosen to intentionally and wrongly leverage the goodwill of Ravinia’s not-for-profit name and brand into personal profits for the beer manufacturing and distribution and restaurant operations of the Ravinia Brewing Company,” Klein and Hayden said, citing the release of the “Key Strokes” beer with a grand piano on its label and a green-hued can, that the word “Brewing” was not large enough relative to “Ravinia” and not including proper disclaimers in connection with live music at the brewery.

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“Further, as a result of the nature and breadth of the Ravinia Brewing Company’s breach of the Agreement and its other business practices, in order to protect the Ravinia Festival’s trademarks and goodwill, Ravinia Festival has no choice but to deem the Agreement rescinded,” they said.

Haydon and Walker met to negotiate the festival’s concerns, and Walker agreed on Sept. 20, 2023, to comply with demands to correct sizing issues, discontinue the “Key Strokes” beer, end the brewery’s relationship with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, ensure disclaimers would be included at any live music events and to remove any references to music in any of the brewing company’s artwork, according to the brewery’s state court complaint.

But that was not enough for the festival, which demanded that the brewing company “‘rebrand its beer, food, and music operations to eliminate its use of the Ravinia name,’ or alternatively, stop hosting or allowing the performance of music at any of its brewpubs without adequate and unspecified ‘safeguards’ to avoid confusion with the ‘food services and events at Ravinia Festival properties,'” according to complaint.

Less than a month after Walker’s offer, attorneys for the music festival filed their federal complaint. That lawsuit was amended last month to add the Delaware-based entity that owns the brewery’s intellectual property as a defendant.

The amended complaint included excerpts from the brewery’s 2017 business plan that reference festival’s brand and showed their “intentions to trade on Ravinia’s valuable name.”

The brewery’s owners responded by putting the excerpts in the context of a collaboration beer and joint marketing efforts prior to the 2018 agreement that they say is still valid — but that the leadership of the music festival claims to have voided.

In the motion to dismiss from Ravinia Brewing Company LLC and Ravinia Brewing Company Chicago LLC, two of the three defendants in the federal case, attorneys for the brewery said the festival failed to provide any basis to suggest that anyone could plausibly mix up the music festival and brewpubs.

“The story that Festival attempts to tell in its First Amended Complaint is fundamentally ridiculous – a customer walks into a bar (one of Brewing’s taprooms) and is confused as to whether he is sitting on a barstool, or on the manicured lawns at Ravinia Festival Park, or as to whether this bar and its offerings are affiliated with the world-class Ravinia Festival Association because both provide ‘food’ and ‘music’ and share the name ‘Ravinia’ in common,” said Shorge Sato.

“This is caveman logic.”

According to the motion, the trademark infringement counts should be dismissed because the complaint fails to show how anyone would be confused, the claims of fraud fail to allege the “who, what, when, where and how” of alleged deceptive conduct, festival officials has not properly rescinded the 2018 agreement and the festival is not famous enough as “Ravinia” — rather than “Ravinia Festival” — to have had its trademark diluted by the brewery.

Sato noted that the festival’s attorneys from Perkins Coie — the big law firm whose Chicago managing partner is also on the board of the association and which has for years sponsored the musical festival and allegedly “received recognition, discounts and other benefits” in return — had failed to distinguished between the earlier “Ravinia Festival” trade mark and the “Ravinia” trademark it registered in 2011.

The defense attorney also said the festival’s amended complaint does not contain any allegations comparing the musical offering of the festival and the brewery or that support that conclusion that their food and music offerings are competitive or related in any way.

“It is not plausible that an appreciable number of consumers would confuse a local artist playing at one of Brewing’s taprooms with one of the ‘world renowned’ artists performing at Ravinia Festival Park. In fact, there are no allegations that Brewing even charges a cover or sells tickets for its live artists, whereas Festival admits that it sells tickets to its shows,” Sato said.

“Finally, there are no allegations about the overall context, or ambiance and themes, in which the music and food products and services are sold at either Festival or Brewing that would support a plausible inference that an appreciable number of consumers might be confused as to affiliation or association,” the defense attorney added.

In the other motion to dismiss, Ravinia Brewing Company IP LLC, the Delaware holding company that owns the trademark, said it is not liable for allegedly infringing activities of the brewery since it does not control its daily operations or marketing strategies.

The brewery’s co-owners said the lesson of the lawsuit is that the festival can strongarm a small business into closing its doors by filing a suit that the families of its owners cannot afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers to defend.

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“Anyone who has been financially bullied and under financial duress by someone with more money will know exactly how we feel,” they said in a statement issued earlier this month.

Walker said Thursday that the brewery’s owners still hoping to have a sincere discussion with festival officials.

“Unfortunately, while we know without doubt that the rule of law is on our side, the current state of our legal system has legitimized the strategy of ‘the law doesn’t matter, we will spend them into the grave,'” Walker told Patch.

“It bothers us deeply that this commercially oriented strategy to kill a competitor is being deployed by a non-profit neighbor with tens of millions in their bank account to harm a family run business that shares the name of their community,” he said. “Once again, we extend the offer for a real conversation, with real people, looking for real outcomes.”


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