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.