Penn State University sues ‘brewery’ for trademark infringement

Pennsylvania State University has filed a lawsuit against Sports Beer Brewing for trademark infringement, alleging that it is exploiting its ‘Penn State’ and ‘Nittany Lions’ trademarks.

Image: Pennsylvania State University (Facebook)

On its website, Sports Beer describes itself as “an intellectual property holding company” with a collection of “sports trademarks, registrations and service marks” for US sports teams.

The Florida-based company, owned by Paul Parshall, then contacts a brewer local to the customer and provides them with branded beer and other merchandise as well as food and cigars.

Pennsylvania State University filed its lawsuit last Friday (26 July) at the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The institution is suing Sports Beer for trademark infringement, unfair competition and trademark dilution, claiming that the company has “engaged in a brazen, wilful effort to exploit and trade on the fame and goodwill associated with Penn State’s rights in the famous Penn State and Nittany Lions trademarks”.

It accuses Sports Beer of trading off the university’s “goodwill and reputation” and infringing on trademarks “belonging to many other colleges, universities and professional sports teams”.

It describes Sports Beer’s operations as “similar to a cybersquatter” in that it “secretly registers famous marks with state departments, which do not undertake trademark searches for conflicts and which approve such registrations automatically”.

The university says that it has contacted Parshall, but that he offered to sell the trademarks back to the university in return for a fee.

According to the lawsuit, Parshall is selling products using the trademarks Penn State Nittany Brewing, Penn State Nittany Beer and Penn State Nittany Lion Cigars.

The university was first made aware of the existence of Sports Beer in March 2018, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Governor’s Office got in touch, alerting the institution to the fact that Parshall was registering the Penn State Nittany beer trademark. It noted that the trademark “resembles trade names used by your organisation in this Commonwealth” and warned that “Mr. Parshall may be attempting to cause confusion or mistake or to deceive in registering these marks.”

The lawsuit also notes that Purdue University filed a similar suit against Parshall and was awarded an injunction in November 2017.

Penn State has now sent Parshall two cease and desist letters, dated June 2018 and 2019 respectively. Responding to the first letter, Parshall claimed that the term ‘beer’ had never been used by the university in any of its filings and thus he had rights to it.

In its lawsuit, the university is asking for the cancellation of Sports Beer’s trademark registrations as well as damages and attorneys’ fees.

Speaking to Centre Daily News, Parshall said that he had not reviewed the lawsuit and refused to comment on the case.

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