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When can a business claim irreparable injury over alleged false advertising by a competitor? When is a half-truth in an advertisement the equivalent to an intent to deceive consumers? These are complex questions. It's also not something the Seventh Circuit wanted to get into in a dispute over whether Bud Light can advertise that Coors Light is made using corn syrup. Instead, Judge Frank Easterbrook kept it simple in a five-page opinion stating that yes, Bud Light's advertising is fine. It's beer, after all. Let's not get too complicated.
According to Judge Easterbrook, the case “is and always has been simple." Miller Coors, the maker of Coors Light, alleged that Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Bud Light, misled consumers into thinking that Coors Light contains high fructose corn syrup. It does not, Miller Coors argues, because the corn syrup is evaporated in the beer-making process. So, despite "corn syrup" being on the ingredients list on the can, consumers enjoying Coors Light's refreshing taste are not, in fact, drinking corn syrup. In addition, Coors Light does not use high fructose corn syrup, the oft-maligned sweetener in soft drinks. The corn syrup is used in fermentation, not to sweeten. Any advertisement by Bud Light implying otherwise is misleading.
The district court issued three orders on the matter, amending its original order twice. This, unsurprisingly, led to some procedural issues. But the Seventh Circuit did not take long to resolve the merits of the lawsuit. Judge Easterbrook, writing for the unanimous panel, noted that Anheuser-Busch never claimed that Coors Light contains high fructose corn syrup. Further, it is not false or misleading to say something about a competitor “that the rival says about itself." Finally, “[i]f Molson Coors does not like the sneering tone of Anheuser-Busch's ads, it can mock Bud Light in return."
In other words, tough it out, Coors Light, and fight back. Judge Easterbrook says as much, writing that “litigation is not a substitute for competition in the market" and “you have to stand up to bullies."
Okay, the last quote was only implied in the opinion.
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