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Recipe theft? Beer giant accuses another of stealing trade secrets

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

In March, MillerCoors sued Anheuser-Busch after AB’s prominent Bud Lite Super Bowl ad and billboard campaign highlighting that MC uses corn syrup in the brewing process for Miller Lite and Coors Light. MC accused AB of misleading the public into thinking MC’s beer brands include consumable corn syrup, when the ingredient is instead a brewing agent that does not make it into the final product, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the time.

Part of the alleged misrepresentation is that the ads imply that MC uses high fructose corn syrup in addition to regular corn syrup.

The article says that AB responded that it is true that MC uses corn syrup in its light beer brewing and AB does not, while MC issued a statement that AB also uses corn syrup in the fermentation process of “many of its own beers” and is “fearmongering” with “deliberate deception.”

Counterclaim for trade secret theft

Fast forward five months. On Oct. 17, AB filed an amended answer to the lawsuit in which it largely denied MC’s allegations, responding with its own allegation that corn syrup sugars are present in MC’s final products at issue.

Significantly, it included a counterclaim for misappropriation of AB’s trade secrets, including “recipes, technical manuals, policies and procedures, and brewing training materials …” AB asks the court to issues preliminary and permanent injunctions in which the court would order MC to not access, use or disclose the alleged trade secrets.

AB also asks for an order that MC return all trade secrets or confidential information or related copies and that MC not communicate with current or former employees of AB about “confidential AB company information and property.”

The counterclaim includes page after page of detailed allegations of trade secret theft via screenshots and texts about beer recipes and brewing methods as well as misappropriation of “limited access” and confidential, internal manuals. Allegations involve a former AB employee who moved to MC.

AB also requests actual and punitive damages and legal fees.

We will keep readers up to date on further developments in this case.

(The links above are to two St. Louis Post-Dispatch articles that in turn link to the complaint as well as the counterclaim.)

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