Ravinia Festival Sues Ravinia Brewing Over Use Of Neighborhood Name
Ravinia Festival Sues Ravinia Brewing Over Use Of Neighborhood Name

Ravinia Festival Sues Ravinia Brewing Over Use Of Neighborhood Name

HIGHLAND PARK, IL — Ravinia Festival Association has rescinded its five-year-old agreement with the Ravinia Brewing Company and filed a federal lawsuit against the local microbrewery.

Attorneys for the 87-year-old not-for-profit that owns and operates the country’s longest-running outdoor music festival accuse the brewing company’s owners, who opened their first taproom on Roger Williams Boulevard in 2018 and a subsequent taproom in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in 2021, of infringing on its trademark and consumer goodwill.

“In developing and marketing its beverages and restaurants, [Ravinia Brewing Company LLC and Ravinia Brewing Company Chicago LLC] have intentionally adopted a product name and imagery that is likely to deceive consumers into believing they are supporting Ravinia when buying from [the brewing companies] and/or that [their] products, services and events are affiliated with and/or sponsored or approved by Ravinia,” according to the festival’s complaint. “If [the brewing companies’] infringement is not enjoined, Ravinia will continue to suffer irreparable damage to its hard-earned good name and brand recognition.”

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The area has been known as Ravinia since 1873. In 1899, it was annexed into the city of Highland Park. The Ravinia Festival, the oldest outdoor music festival in North America, was founded in 1904 and incorporated as a not-for-profit 32 years later when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra began its regular residency there.

As previously reported by Highland Park Patch, representatives of the Ravinia Festival Association, or RFA, previously tried to get the owners of Ravinia Brewing Company, or RBC, to sign a licensing agreement involving per-unit licensing fees and giving over ownership of the name “Ravinia Brewing” to the music festival.

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Following public backlash, RFA dropped that request. Former RFA president Welz Kauffman said in a newspaper advertisement that the festival’s “one issue” with the RBC was “brand confusion” that could be cleared up through the size of the words “Brewing” and “Company” on marketing and labeling agreements. The brewery and music festival negotiated an agreement that allowed the brewing company to open.

According to the federal complaint filed last month, RFA only agreed not to object to the brewing company’s name if it followed by the terms of the 2018 agreement and based on its understanding that RBC would only operate a single venue in Highland Park. The Chicago taproom, which is owned by a different LLC, was never a party to the agreement, the suit alleges.

“As a result of the nature and breadth of RBC’s disregard for the terms of the 2018 Agreement and other misconduct and other infringing activity which has increased both in scope and frequency during Ravinia’s 2023 season, Ravinia notified RBC on August 23, 2023, that the 2018 Agreement was rescinded due to RBC’s material failure to abide by the agreement’s terms,” it said. “At that time and subsequently, Ravinia offered to discuss potential terms of a new agreement, but the parties have been unable to reach an agreement to date.”

RBC issued a statement Wednesday describing the suit as “baseless” and disputing its allegations.

“Ravinia Brewing’s desire is to simply service our community, make great food, brew award-winning beer and peacefully co-exist with our neighbors. However, Ravinia Brewing will not stand by quietly as a lawsuit designed to intimidate, bleed-dry, and likely profit from our business is brought against us,” it said.

According to the statement, the RFA recently shared concerns about brand confusion and the brewing company quickly changed the size of the font on its cans in response.

“It had been mutually agreed that should ‘additional consumer confusion arise’ that both parties would ‘agree to negotiate in good faith and take steps reasonably necessary to eliminate or mitigate such confusion,'” it said. “Ravinia Brewing on two occasions notified the Festival that their annual Craft Beer event was a potential source of brand confusion, and did so as a part of our agreement to work towards peaceful coexistence. This request was ignored and Ravinia Brewing Company did not threaten to or file a lawsuit on the back of this violation.”

The RFA’s behavior is part of a pattern of using its resources to “beat up” on a local business rather than furthering its mission, according to the RBC’s statement.

“This is disappointing, and an embarrassment for the Ravinia Festival. They have made it known to us that as a result of their donors, they are fortunate to have the ‘most expensive lawyers in the country.’ We are unclear how spending hundreds of thousands of charitable dollars on the ‘most expensive lawyers in the country’ allows Ravinia Festival to maintain affordable ticket prices or drive broader and more diverse audiences for classical music,” it said. “We have a legal and moral right to use the Ravinia Brewing mark. We remain open to constructive dialogue with the Festival – and it is our hope that the values of our community can once and for all be exhibited through peaceful co-existence.”

The RFA’s 24-page complaint accuses RBC of two counts of each of trademark infringement, false designation of origin, federal trademark dilution and violation of Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, as well as single counts of unfair competition, trademark infringement and trademark dilution under state trademark law.

The suit singles out the brewery’s creation of a “music-themed beer” called “Key Strokes” that has a grand piano on the can and uses a green color allegedly associated with the music festival and that the company’s “social media and other consumer directed marketing” has been “brazenly promoting itself inside of the Ravinia Festival Park and suggesting a relationship or sponsorship with Ravinia and its services that does not exist.”

RBC co-owner Kris Walker told the Chicago Tribune, which first reported the suit, the RFA lawsuit is referencing a July post by his wife on her personal Facebook page in which the couple is shown drinking Ravinia Brewing beer during a Counting Crews concert, describing it as the “most egregious” allegation in the 11-count lawsuit.

According to the most recent available federal tax filing, Ravinia Festival Association had a net income of nearly $9.5 million for the fiscal year ending September 2021, with more than $225 million in net assets.

Meanwhile, Ravinia Brewing Company has an annual revenue in excess of $500,000 for each year from 2019 to 2022, according to a since-settled federal lawsuit by a former employee alleging that he worked at least 66 hours a week while getting no overtime and a biweekly salary of no more than $2,300.

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