Aviator Brewing in Fuquay-Varina embroiled in lawsuit against California brewery | News Feature | Indy Week
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Aviator Brewing in Fuquay-Varina embroiled in lawsuit against California brewery 

sharks_diptych.jpg

Shark Number 1—we'll call him Mighty Whitey—was born in 2000, on the Pacific sands near Eureka, California. Whitey grew strong, with a large pectoral fin, intense gum lines, sharp teeth and fierce overbite. Smitten by California's beaches and palm trees, Whitey enjoyed surfboards—eating them, specifically—accompanied by his choice beverage, a frothy mug of Belgian white beer, infused with citrus.

Shark Number 2—we'll call him Mad Maddox—was born around 2008, on the shores of North Carolina. Maddox, too, grew strong and fat, with a large pectoral fin, massive jaw, sharp teeth and imposing underbite.

Maddox also enjoyed feasting on surfboards, supplemented by an overflowing glass of wheat beer garnished with oranges. (Sometimes his octopus friend joined him for a quaff.) So taken by malted barley was Maddox that he tattooed his fin with the words "BEER IS MY FRIEND."

For six years both sharks patrolled their respective territories, chomping on surfboards and washing them down with their sudsy libations.

But this past summer the two sharks converged. And the fangs came out.

Whitey is the property of Lost Coast Brewery & Café in California. He is featured on the brewery's "Great White" beer label.

Maddox is the property of Aviator Brewing Company in Fuquay-Varina. He is featured on the brewery's "Mad Beach" beer label.

Now, the owners of Lost Coast Brewery claim that Maddox is not an original idea, but rather a sly derivative of Whitey. Earlier this year Lost Coast filed a federal trademark-infringement lawsuit against Aviator in the Northern District of California. Lost Coast claimed it owned the imagery for the suds-sipping, surfboard-snacking shark, and demanded that Aviator replace Maddox with another design.

"Like the great white mark, Aviator's Mad Beach mark also depicts a shark standing on a beach holding a beer mug with one pectoral fin and an upright surfboard positioned on the opposite side of the shark," the suit claimed. "The surfboard also has a bite mark at the top."

Mark Doble, the owner and president of Aviator, who founded his craft beer company in a Fuquay-Varina airport hangar in 2008, was nonplussed by the accusation; to him, his Maddox had little resemblance to Lost Coast's Whitey.

"The only similarities between Plaintiff's artwork and Defendant's label is that both share the concept of sharks drinking beer, and both include surf boards with shark bites," Doble's lawyer wrote in court documents.

Last month a California judge dismissed the case, arguing that his state did not have jurisdiction over Aviator. (The beer is not sold in California.) Three days later, fearing a similar lawsuit in North Carolina, Doble filed a suit against Lost Coast that would prevent the California company from going after Maddox in North Carolina courts.

Lost Coast, whose official name is Table Bluff Brewing, distributes beer in 22 states, including North Carolina, through a Greensboro distributor, and in a dozen other countries and territories. Launched in 1990 in a castle in Eureka, the company was ranked in 2013 by the Brewers Association as the 37th-largest producer by beer sales volume in the craft brew category, and 48th in the overall category. Its Great White beer boasts "a secret blend of Humboldt herbs" and "crystal clear mountain water."

Since launching in 2008, Aviator has expanded from its original distribution area, the Triangle, to include a larger swath of southern states, as well as Italy and China. It has won several awards at the North Carolina Championship of Beer. Of its Mad Beach brew, the company says, "Our hope is that you drink this beer on the beach or at least thinking about the beach."

Joyce Hill, Lost Coast's restaurant manager, did not respond to the INDY's request for comment.

Doble is crossing his fingers that his lawsuit will end the shark fight. "Our hope is that Lost Coast does not wish to pursue the trademark infringement as our marks are completely dissimilar and could not possibly be confused in the marketplace," he said.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Jumping the shark"

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