Battle brewing between beer companies over Muskoka chair logo

Updated: July 16, 2019

Molson Coors, left, and Muskoka Brewery T-shirts Molson Coors T-shirt (left) and Muskoka Brewery T-shirt (right). Photos courtesy Muskoka Brewery

A Muskoka chair is not simply a comfortable place to sit while admiring your lake. It is an ethos, a symbol of Canadian cottaging and all that we associate with that—relaxing, the great outdoors, getting away from it all. A cold beer on a hot day.

That ethos, according to Muskoka Brewery, is part of what they sell. Which is why the craft brewery in Bracebridge, Ont., recently filed statement of claim against Molson Coors for using a Muskoka chair logo on T-shirts and Molson Canadian beer cases.

“The biggest concern from our end is our brand and our logo,” says Todd Lewin, the president of Muskoka Brewery. “It represents everything that we’ve built here at Muskoka Brewery over the past 23 years.” He discovered Molson’s use of a Muskoka chair logo in the latter part of June when he began to hear social media chatter about it and when his own salespeople went into beer stores and saw the Molson displays alongside their own.

“There’s a lot on the line for a small brewery like ours,” says Lewin. “It takes a long time to build a brand.” Seeing a similar logo took him, staff, and customers by surprise, he says. “We really felt we had to take action against it.”

Whether or not Muskoka Brewery is successful will depend, says Colleen Spring Zimmerman, an intellectual property lawyer with Fogler Rubinoff in Toronto. “A court will look at the degree of resemblance between those two [trademarks] and look at it from the standpoint of some consumer that’s not necessarily totally familiar with either of them. Will the average consumer be confused if they saw the Molson display and they only had a weak recollection of the other?” The trademarks, she points out, do not have to be identical in order for there to be some likelihood of confusion.

Of additional concern to Muskoka Brewery is that beer drinkers might assume that Muskoka Brewery, long an independent, had been bought by the behemoth Molson’s, which, says Lewin, has a history of buying up craft brewers. “A lot of our fans are proud to support us because of our independence and because we’re not part of a big national company and the jobs and dollars stay right here in Ontario.”

Thus far, Molson Coors hasn’t responded to the claim, though they have a full 30 days to consider their action. Nor did the company respond to a request for comment from Cottage Life by the time we posted this story.

For Lewin, the case is clear. “We’re doing the right thing.”

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