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Ravinia Festival files trademark lawsuit against Ravinia Brewing

The Ravinia Festival, whose outdoor stage and lawns come alive with famous musical acts each summer, is suing Ravinia Brewing, a small craft brewery within earshot in Highland Park, for trademark infringement.

The lawsuit, filed last month in Chicago federal court, alleges that Ravinia Brewing, which sells oddly named beers and tacos from a taproom in front of its unassuming storefront, is violating an agreement that has been vacated since 2018 to limit the use of the common hometown name. The lawsuit claims the restriction is intended to minimize confusion between the “world-famous Ravinia” and a “local restaurant and bar.”

The nonprofit festival association alleges that Ravinia Brewing Company has failed to comply with the agreement and has recently “further traded on and infringed upon Ravinia’s well-known registered trademark, in blatant disregard of the rules.”

“This is the first time in five years that a single concern has been raised about any brand confusion,” said Kris Walker, 47, a Ravinia resident and co-founder of Ravinia Brewing.

A Ravinia spokesman declined to comment.

When Ravinia Brewing prepared to open its north suburban brewpub six years ago, their bubble nearly burst due to the Ravinia Festival, which challenged the brewery’s right to share the name of the Highland Park business district made famous by its outdoor concert venue. The dispute became public and both parties became involved. to the table to reach an agreement This allowed Ravinia Brewing to use the name with certain limitations.

The craft brewery, also located in the Ravinia business district, allegedly got around the bet by opening a second location in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in 2021, “away from Highland Park, still using the Ravinia name,” according to the lawsuit.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Ravinia Brewing promoted live music at both venues and promoted the music-themed “Key Strokes” beer, which traded on an implied association with the Ravinia Festival, among other violations.

The music festival canceled the agreement in August before taking the matter to court, demanding that the brewery stop producing and selling beer under the Ravinia name.

In the lawsuit, Ravinia Festival points to five registered trademarks covering entertainment services, the oldest of which dates back to 1936, although they were not registered until 2002. Ravinia Festival’s trademark for restaurant services was first used in 1964, but was registered at the same time. Additional entertainment and restaurant services trademarks under the Ravinia name were registered in 2011, and an internet entertainment trademark was added in 2021.

Ravinia Brewing applied for its trademark in 2015.

Intellectual property attorney and Ravinia native Brett Tolpin, who represented Ravinia Brewing in its legal battle with the music festival, said the Ravinia name is fair game.

“The word Ravinia is what we call geographically descriptive in trademark law, and it is fair use for anyone to use,” Tolpin said. “It’s like using the word Chicago, no one has a geographical name.”

Tolpin, a board member of the Ravinia Neighbors Association, ticked off a list of businesses and establishments that use the Ravinia name, including those that serve food and occasionally provide musical entertainment.

Long-standing businesses on the North Shore are branded with a variety of names, from Ravinia Plumbing to Ravinia Barbershop. The space now occupied by Ravinia Brewing on Roger Williams Boulevard was once home to the Ravinia post office and is next door to the former home of Ravinia BBQ & Grill, a family-owned eatery for three decades.

Highland Park resident Steve Nickel gets a haircut from Yelena Yorsh at Ravinia Barbershop in Highland Park on July 6, 2022.

The name Ravinia itself refers to a 151-year-old community annexed to Highland Park in 1899; it’s an organization that predates the outdoor music festival’s earliest incarnation by five years.

First opened in 1904, the Ravinia Festival was originally designed as a high-end amusement park with a music pavilion, dance hall, baseball stadium and other attractions to encourage Chicagoans to take the train to the idyllic enclave north of the city. Founded in 1936, the nonprofit Ravinia Festival has grown over the years into a renowned outdoor venue that brings the best musical performances across a variety of genres to the concert stage each summer.

Its power and prestige made Ravinia Festival a formidable rival for the newly founded brewery in 2017. A resurgence of the dispute this fall remains an existential threat to Ravinia Brewing.

The owners of Ravinia Brewing received notice from Ravinia Festival on August 23 that they had violated the 2018 agreement and the agreement was canceled. Walker said the brewery owners met with Ravinia CEO Jeffrey Haydon and Chairman Christopher Klein in mid-September and agreed to a series of changes in a follow-up email to address their concerns.

Ravinia Festival responded to the proposed action plan with another letter, stating that the plan was unacceptable. Walker later said he had resumed his attorney’s services.

The dispute escalated, and on October 25, Ravinia Festival filed a trademark infringement lawsuit.

While Ravinia Brewing, like many local merchants, has no official affiliation with the Ravinia Festival, it does promote food and drink packages to take to concerts. In addition to tacos, burritos and desserts, the online pop-up box description includes a disclaimer: Ravinia Brewing Company is a separate entity and is in no way affiliated with the Ravinia Festival Association.

Walker said the brewing company’s name is an homage to his hometown, not an attempt to turn his back on the music festival’s success. Organic synergy opportunity missed during Ravinia Festival He tried to make a “Shark Tank”-like deal The brewery, which was founded more than five years ago, is demanding a $35,000 sponsorship fee and a 5% royalty on each beer sold.

They eventually reached an agreement to limit the brewing company’s use of the Ravinia brand. Restrictions include “Brewing Company” being at least 28% the size of “Ravinia” on all packaging and signage, Walker said.

People will gather at 2601 W. Diversey Ave. in Chicago on November 7, 2023.  Relaxing at Ravinia Brewing at.

Walker said Ravinia expanded the proportions of the logo slightly when it moved from 12-ounce cans to 16-ounce cans last year, shrinking “Brewing Company” to about 26% of “Ravinia.”

“We didn’t even know this was happening until they brought it up,” Walker said. “That was part of our offer to them to switch it up immediately and make ‘Brewing Company’ 30% (bigger), so we wouldn’t have to worry about it again.”

Walker said Ravinia Brewing made the rate adjustment before Ravinia Festival filed the lawsuit, but concerns about the cans went beyond the logo.

Ravinia Brewing offers a selection of Chicago-brewed beers in colorful cans with equally colorful locally themed names like “Diversey Station” and “Steep Ravine.” But the brewery allegedly crossed the line this summer by re-releasing “Key Strokes,” which features an image of a pianist on a green-colored can, which Ravinia Festival claims “inappropriately associates” the beer with the concert venue.

The “Key Strokes” beer is currently listed as unavailable on the Ravinia Brewing website.

Ravinia Festival also alleges in its complaint that Ravinia Brewing’s endorsement of musical performances has “caused real confusion in the marketplace.” The lawsuit cites Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra jazz students performing at Ravinia Brewing in Chicago during the summer as an example.

Last season, the Ravinia Festival presented a typically diverse all-star musical lineup that went beyond student musicians, featuring everyone from Santana and Jethro Tull to Carrie Underwood and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The brewery’s occasional musical offerings are less ambitious, Walker said.

“He looks like a guy playing guitar on a Thursday night,” Walker said. “That’s it. We haven’t had live music in Highland Park for two years.”

The lawsuit also alleges Ravinia Brewing used social media to showcase its products to drinking consumers at Ravinia Festival events, “brazenly promoting itself” within the park and offering a non-existent sponsorship relationship.

Walker said the social media campaign in question was a personal Facebook post from his wife, Jennifer, showing the couple drinking Ravinia beer at a Counting Crows concert in June.

Walker called it the “most egregious” allegation in the case.

“The sample they used was not from Ravinia Brewing’s social media platform,” he said. “This was a photo my wife took of me and her drinking one of our beers on her personal page.”

The 11-count lawsuit includes allegations of trademark infringement and consumer fraud. It aims to stop Ravinia Brewing from producing and selling beer under the Ravinia brand, forcing it to recall products from its distribution channels and destroy its holdings. Ravinia Festival is also seeking any profits made from the sale of infringing products and undisclosed damages.

But giving up the Ravinia Brewing name isn’t an option for Walker.

“The value of the brand equity we have built into the Ravinia Brewing Company name is not only financially important, but emotionally important as well,” Walker said. “This is who we are. People see us in the city, we are the Ravinia Brewing team. This is a big deal.”

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

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