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Two founders of a Somerville brewery hopping mad over third founder's new line of suds, so they sue

Two founders of craft brewer Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville have sued the third for trademark infringement after, they say, he stole the company's recipes, fonts, and even UPC codes to start up a competing brewery under their noses.

In a suit filed in US District Court in Boston yesterday, Aeronaut founders Ronn Friedlander and Daniel Rassi said they began to realize what Benjamin Holmes was up to last month, after noticing he had renamed one of the company's Instagram accounts from "aeronautcans" to "fab_cans" - to go with what turned out to be an entirely new venture of his called Fermentation Arts Brasserie.

They are asking a judge to get Holmes to knock it off, destroy all the Aeronaut-based stuff at his company and pay them lots of damages.

In a counter-motion filed today, Holmes took his former partners to cask, saying he developed his beer recipes with the help of a brewer across the river in Dorchester, that his labels look nothing like theirs and saying the reuse of the UPC codes was a mistake that he's already fixed. And he says his contract has a clause that let him set up a competing business.

The three founded Aeronaut in 2013 when they were simple beer-loving MIT graduate students.

In their lawsuit, Friedlander and Rassi said they had been trying to reduce Holmes's role at the company - he was president and CEO - over the past two years "due to concerns about Mr. Holmes's management style."

The two say they thought that had been working, until they discovered the renamed Instagram account and that was their pint of no return.

Mr. Holmes accessed and viewed Aeronaut beer recipes around the time he likely needed recipes for his new company. On November 21, 2019, Mr. Holmes searched the web for "ekos brewmaster print recipe," while logged into his Aeronaut Google account. Ekos Brewmaster is a password protected software program on which Aeronaut stores its recipe information. Aeronaut's recipes are proprietary and kept confidential on a need to know basis even within the company. Mr. Holmes accessed Aeronaut recipes for four specific, highly acclaimed Aeronaut beers on November 21, 2019 and November 25, 2019, and viewed a report listing all of Aeronaut's ingredients for all its beers. Mr. Holmes had no legitimate Aeronaut business purpose for accessing these documents.

The two charge Holmes exported 20,000 contacts from its mailing-list provider and 14,000 records from the service it uses to register customers for events and that he ripped off their label designs, right down to the unusual font they use and the UPC codes built into them. Also:

Mr. Holmes also has not returned, or repaid Aeronaut for, his keys, his cellular phone, a personal income tax levy, poster prints, and framed artist rendition prints, despite Aeronaut's request that he do so immediately no later than January 1, 2020, and despite written promises to return some of these items.

In a motion filed today, Holmes said he doesn't know why his former friends are so bitter towards him that they would defame him and release his personal information, but denied he ripped off their proprietary information or label designs and that the use of their UPC codes was a mistake he quickly rectified.

And, Holmes added, his first two beer lines were based on a recipe - used with permission - from the Dorchester Brewing Co. and that they are "West Coast style" IPAs, using West Coast "Chico" yeast, rather than yeast Aeronaut uses in its pale ales. Also:

Defendant FAB's third recipe, called "Pilsner For Peace", was originally based off of the Dorchester Brewing Co. 's Pilsner design, as adapted by Defendant Holmes and used with permission.

At no time was any recipe information originating from Plaintiff transferred to the collaborators at Dorchester Brewing Co., or used in recipe design for Defendant FAB beers in any way.

Aeronaut complaint (229k PDF).
Aeronaut request for a temporary restraining order (211k PDF).
Holmes's reponse (4.7M PDF).

H/t Alicia Fasi for the "pint of no return" line.

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Comments

I'll be over here enjoying a Guinness.

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To sell cannabis..

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nt

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Don't understand why every one has to be so hoppin' mad. Maybe if the three of them would step back and malt things over, this story would beer a clean, citrusy finish rather than sour.

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Sounds like this dude tapped a keg load of resentments by launching his new lawn chair while still moored. He should have made a cold break first.

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Reminds me of the America’s test kitchen/Milk Street situation.

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Holmes was a grad student in Feng Zhang's lab, one of the groups claiming invention of CRISPR which has devolved into a fight between big institutions involving millions of dollars of legal fees. So even though he dropped out of science it looks like he learned something from his time in the field.

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That's the way most beer-drinking sessions end, isn't it? The only possible merit to the complaint is the usurpation of the customer lists, but the cat is out of the bag, so accept the publicity and move on. The only decent drink on tap is Guinness, so why the fuss?

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Left an invoice template in the copier which read "Michael Scott Paper Company."

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adamg
"Holmes took his former partners to cask"
"and that was their pint of no return."
"Holmes said he doesn't know why his former friends are so bitter"

Mister Sparge
"Don't understand why every one has to be so hoppin' mad"
"step back and malt things over, this story would beer a clean, citrusy finish rather than sour."

SwirlyGrrl
"Sounds like this dude tapped a keg load of resentments"
"He should have made a cold break first."

Did I miss any?

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What a bonehead. It's fine to start your own project, but don't steal from the one you worked on with others. I just looked and the text on the cans in general do look VERY similar.

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Pitcher a world where all beer making nerds got along!

This barley looks like something the federal court should be handling and seems like some jealousy is running a-rye here.

I hop the co-founders/friends can come together to brew good will towards each other.

Also, just tasted Squid VS Nandu -- so far not the same beer. Excited to continue this research!

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Update: tasted Fab Squid VS Aero Hop Hop Beer -- not the same beer! My research shall continue!

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You don't "accidentally" use someone's UPC codes on your label unless you stole a copy of their label and tried to make it your own.

Also, he googled the website that they were storing their beer recipes in without using incognito mode OR cleaning up his account history.

What an imbecile.

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Drinking a hop hop side by side with Balloon factory in the shack. Seems very different! Doesn't aeronaut use special yeast to make their brews? Sounds like these guys have been dipping into the moonshine

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Their beers aren't all that similar I've tried from both. Even if they do taste the same to some, so do many standard IPAs to the average drinker. Artwork on cans should not be owned by or protected by breweries. Local artists should be protected and the art they release for beer should be their own to use as they please.

This fight that's been brewing should fizzle out (I'm terrible with puns). All sides need to stop, sip some suds, and make beers for the people who matter - their customers.

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