On Tap: The Importance of Trademarks for Breweries

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, many Americans are likely looking forward to having a few adult beverages. Some will indulge at their local pubs, or fill up a pint or two on tap at their favorite brewery to enjoy at home. In either case, their favorite brews from local breweries are likely to be on the menu.
 
Did you know according to one estimate, beer sales increase by 174% on St. Patrick’s Day when compared to the rest of the year? Furthermore, experts predict St. Patrick’s Day revelers around the world will down 13 million pints of Guinness in celebration this year. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that St. Patrick’s Day ranks as the most popular holiday for drinking beer.
 
This is clearly good news for the beer industry. The popularity and increase in business competition, however, may also raise concerns about brand recognition and protection for both new and existing breweries.

The first step to achieving brand recognition is developing a viable product. The second is creating the actual brand. This means coming up with a business name, if you do not already have one, names for each of your products or offerings. It also may include the creation of logos, labels, and other identifying documents. In other words, you have to come up with a trademark (or multiple trademarks). Importantly, this requires making sure you aren’t accidentally infringing on another brand. Names/brands/logos do not have to be identical or even for the same products to be considered infringement. This is done by getting a comprehensive trademark search and risk analysis performed. 
 
To clarify, the primary purpose of a trademark is to differentiate your products from your competitors’ products. This puts consumers on notice of the quality and reputation associated with your products. Accordingly, you may want to consider registering the following as trademarks:
 
-The name of your business
-The name of your products
-Your insignia or label
-An emblem or crest
-Your product packaging
-Each brew within your brewery, in addition to your overall brand

Protecting your brand is key, and a process that many brewery owners are not familiar with. While most know they need to protect the brand itself, they often do not realize that each new beer should also be protected within their overarching brand, as each new beer has its own trademark(s). This leaves breweries vulnerable to competitors swooping in to gain from their hard work. Many times, this happens unintentionally, but with the same result.

Once you have created a trademark it is important to understand how to protect it. Contrary to popular belief, protection is not strictly contingent upon registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO. However, failing to do so can result in a highly expensive dispute, even if you were the first to use the trademark. Some trademark rights begin when you establish regular use of the mark in the course of doing business and you could have superior rights over another mark if you can prove that you used it first. The scope of protection is also limited by factors such as the region you have consistently done business in. This type of protection may last indefinitely, as long as you continue to enforce your rights and your attorney can help you understand how to put a plan into action. Realistically, however, the safer, typically least expensive, and ultimately strongest way to protect your trademark is to register the mark with the USPTO. 
 
Among other benefits, doing this provides national protection and defines when you started to use the mark and the public is put on notice. This type of protection can be maintained indefinitely. After registration, it is effective for 10 years, and it is subject to renewal and maintenance requirements.

As we bring this discussion to a close to take part in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, it is important to understand that using and registering a trademark is just one way to safeguard your intellectual property and business. Patents and copyrights may do so as well and the advice that an intellectual property lawyer can bring to the table will prove invaluable. To learn if or how each of these may benefit you and protect your ideas, please call our law firm to schedule an appointment today, or at any point in the future.