DUTTON — A West Michigan brewpub in planning has agreed to change its name as part of a settlement in a trademark infringement case brought by Railtown Brewing Co. last August.
Under the terms of the settlement, Byron Center-based Byron Station LLC will no longer operate under the name Railbird Taphouse and Brewery. Instead, the brewpub will take on the name Alebird Taphouse and Brewery.
The company also agreed to withdraw trademarks including the word “Railbird,” although it can still use the word in the name of a beer and on merchandise related to the beer it sells at its taproom. Under the settlement, that beer can only be sold for consumption at Alebird Taphouse, located in the former Byron Hotel, not in any to-go packages. The company’s “burgundy chicken” logo remains unchanged.
Dutton-based Railtown Brewing filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit in August in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. In the filings, Railtown alleged that the Railbird name was confusingly similar, that it had led to confusion in the marketplace, and “is likely to continue to confuse, mislead and deceive consumers,” as MiBiz previously reported.
The two companies are located less than 10 miles apart from each other in the southern part of Kent County.
Railtown Brewing co-founder Justin Buiter called the settlement “the best outcome given the situation.”
“I can’t say we’re thrilled or happy or plant the flag and say that we won. It’s just a relief to get the end result we wanted, which was to avoid confusion in the marketplace,” he told MiBiz.
Representatives from the two companies “sat down over beers” to try to “find middle ground” beforehand, Buiter said, noting that changing the Railbird name was a non-starter for Byron Station’s owners. He said the settlement agreement came about after several months of “drawn-out” negotiations, and that Railtown Brewing wanted to ensure that the process did not prevent the brewpub from opening.
According to stipulated dismissal that was submitted to the court today, the parties agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice, with each party paying its own legal fees. A judge needs to sign the order for it to be finalized.
With the matter now settled, Byron Station “will continue to work tirelessly” to open the brewpub, partner Mark Sytsma said in a statement.
“As we fully expected, the case was settled without any finding of wrongdoing on our end,” Sytsma said in an email to MiBiz. “We made the decision to change our name so our focus could remain on bringing great food and beer to Byron Center and surrounding communities, not lawsuits.”
Despite having to take legal action against a fellow craft brewery — an industry known for its collegiality — Railtown’s Buiter said he received “an outpouring of support” from other brewery owners.
“We know we went about this the right way. We all sat down to try to hash this out over a beer first and find middle ground,” he said. “I don’t think that conversation would have happened in most other industries.
“It’s going to be good to get back routine and get rid of the distraction.”
Joe Infante of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PLC represented Railtown Brewing in the case. Byron Station was represented by Joel Baar of Baar & Lichterman PLLC.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to note that the stipulated settlement was submitted to the court today, but still needs the court’s approval to be finalized. This story was also updated with a statement from Bryon Station LLC.