A Brewers Guide to Trademarking
Trademarks and copyrights protect breweries from problems now and later.
Before choosing a name for your brewery or for any beer you plan to distribute outside the confines of your brewery, there are some important steps you need to take to protect your potential brand. Failing to copyright and trademark your brewery and beer names can have consequences including paying for the use of the name or being forced to change the name, even if it has become well-established.
Choosing Unique Brewery and Beer Names
The first step to making sure your chosen names are not already being used is to search for duplications. This should be done before you attempt to trademark your names. Searching three main places should give you a good idea of what names are being used.
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office will list existing trademarks that are similar to or the same as the name you want to use.
- You also need to check the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau's Certification of Label/Bottle Approval (COLA) Registry to make sure the beer name you want has not already been used.
- The third place to search is Google (or your favorite search engine). Not everyone trademarks their brewery name and beer names, but if you can avoid using the name of an already established beer, it's probably for the best whether it's technically trademarked or not.
Lastly, as a final, fourth step, you can look through trade and industry publications and magazines to see if your name appears anywhere. As time goes on, though, the internet is probably as good or better a source as any printed material.
The Trademarking Process
Legal help may be needed to obtain or defend a trademark for your brewery or beer names.
Once you have determined that your brewery and beer names are not being used, you should apply for a trademark even if you haven't started making or distributing beer. You can get a trademark as long as you intend to use the name, and you have 6 months plus extensions to start using the name after the trademark is approved. You can apply for a trademark online here.
You can trademark just the name, or a label design that incorporates the name, or both, but if you choose both, you need to file two separate trademarks. Trademark applications cost several hundred dollars, plus attorney's fees if you choose to file with professional legal help. For a very small brewery without much distribution, trademarking every beer name may not be cost-effective, but for larger breweries, it is necessary to protect yourself.
There have been cases where overlapping brewery and beer names have caused problems for brewers. In one case, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company registered the name Narwhal Imperial Stout, only to find out that name was being used by a much smaller Narwhal Brewing Company for one of their beers.
Since Sierra Nevada had a registered trademark and then-Narwhal didn't, the case ended with Narwhal Brewing changing its name entirely to Fin-back Brewing. While some breweries can handle a setback like changing their name, others may not be able to survive the upheaval such an occurrence can cause.
Protecting your brewery with the proper trademarks is part of doing business and should be carefully considered by all prospective brewers, as well as those that are already in business but haven't taken this step.
If you liked this article, you may also like: Craft Beer Label Printing Tips for Beginners