Breweries make beer. Wineries make wine (or, under their license, other emerging products such as cider and mead). But what about the reverse? Can a Washington brewery produce wine, cider, and mead? Or, can a Washington winery produce beer? Can either start distilling? Yes, the entity can do so. But, as you might expect, it’s critical to obtain the proper alcohol licenses to produce beverages in the other product category. Indeed, at both the state (Liquor Control Board or “LCB”) and federal levels (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau or “TTB”), different licenses are required to cross over into producing other kinds of alcoholic beverages. There are some facility setup issues to bear in mind when doing so, with separation concerns, but they’re not insurmountable. Indeed, as interest in all kinds of fermented beverages is on the rise, we expect to see more beverage businesses extending their brand into these new places.
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Over the weekend, the hard-working Kendall Jones over at the Washington Beer Blog reported on the latest trademark dispute to hit Washington breweries. This time, between them.
Three Magnets Brewing Company over in Olympia had called their flagship IPA “Rainy Day IPA.” They got into a scuffle with another Washington brewery, not named in the article, and ended up changing the beer name.
No matter the breweries involved, the lesson is the same in the others we’ve seen. It’s the same for any industry, not just brewing. Before naming a business or investing in the release of branded flagship products—before launching any brand material you’d be bummed to change—the process is the same:
- Proactively clear the mark yourself. For the beer industry, that means using Google, Ratebeer, Untappd, Beer Advocate. Basic clearance involves looking for beers, but also wines and spirits. If it’s a brewery name, it involves looking into the names of bars and restaurants out there. Strike ‘em off the list or seek the counsel of a trademark attorney when finding a potential conflict or issue. The visual similarities between the marks matter, as do similarities in sound and in meaning.
- After pre-clearing and locating marks that seem potentially clear (or, at least, less fraught with problems), the next steps is to seek a professional trademark clearance report and analysis. Sure, you can search the trademark register yourself as a part of your pre-clearance processes. But, recognize that it’s not just the “hits” that matter; it’s the interpretation of the hits, the status of the marks, and how to interpret the results. It’s also knowing how to conduct the right search in the first place to not miss potentially confusingly similar (not just identical) marks. Getting a professional opinion from a trademark attorney doesn’t have to cost a fortune. And it shouldn’t.
- When finding a direction that appears clear, file. Not next week or next month, but immediately. The trademark register moves quickly. Beers are launched every day. Both filings and unregistered releases have implications on your potential trademark rights. You can file an intent-to-use trademark application before you launch products. Before you open the brewery.
- Now that you’ve done it right, stay on the lookout. Monitor for potentially conflicting applications and uses.
In closing, I will make one general note, when looking toward the future. Keep in mind that having a pending application or even a registration doesn’t immunize a brewery from potential name issues; despite careful planning, no one can predict how broadly others will construe their brands (See, for example, Red Bull opposing Old Ox Brewing). Even when you’ve done everything right, it can be expensive to maintain rights. Others can infringe, and you may have to stop them. Others may find you infringing and it’s expensive to fight it, even when they have a bad case. That’s an unfortunate reality. But, taking these steps is not just best practice, it’s essential practice for any brewery or beverage business that wants to stake a strong and long-term claim to its branding material. Budget for protection, the same way you’d budget for opening a brewery in the first place or planning for expansion. Get yourself on the register and visible to others looking to protect their brands.
It’s a minimal investment given that properly staked-out rights can potentially belong to the business forever.
Edit (5/9/2015): You all are astute readers, and it’s awesome. Thanks to a comment I received via email from one such reader, it appears there *has* been a tweak to the 25% rule. Although, it seems to be more of a sensical one to help keep taproom managers from breaking out calculators. I’m grateful for the note; and in my laser-like focus on the cider stuff, I didn’t cover this nuanced tweak. See my strikethroughs and underlined additions below; and I’ll be making a new post specific to this change where I also will point out some wonderfully inconsistent quirks in the bill. Look for that in the next day or so. -DT
Guest taps are a great thing. But, what about a cider guest tap in a State of Washington taproom? Can a Washington brewery sell cider? The reality right now is no (but if you can wait until July, I’ll have a different answer…read on).
Today, a brewery cannot legally have cider guest taps unless that Washington brewery is also a restaurant meeting certain food minimums (and even then you need a proper endorsement). This has been a bummer for cider fans of course, and also those needing and seeking to avoid gluten in their diets. It’s also kept beer and cider producers, who share a similar ethos, from doing a bit of teamwork to get presence in the marketplace. Of course, it’s also been an untapped revenue stream for both sides.
In any event, I have some good news for you. This legislative session, we saw House Bill 1342 introduced, which aimed to remedy just that. Thanks to our craft-savvy government, H.B. 1342 swiftly moved through the House and Senate and was recently signed by the Governor. H.B. 1342 not only permits cider guest taps, but it also allows sales for off-premises consumption. So, whether by the glass, growler, or packaged to go, cider has the forthcoming green light at Washington breweries, now with no extra regulatory or food-prep fuss.
When can you expect cider to (legally) pour at Washington breweries? The effective date is July 24, 2015.
A few last notes.
Keep in mind that nothing about House Bill 1342 changes the 25% rule on guest taps, covered over in this recent post, and it’s a welcome change in favor of common sense.
What Changed About the 25% Rule (Added 5/9/2015)
If you recall my first post on the 25% rule, you’ll remember that it was a weird rule. Under it, guest taps couldn’t exceed 25% of a brewery’s own on-tap offerings. It sounds great in theory, but the technical wording is actually annoying to apply. To make numbers easy, say you have 100 beers on tap. You could have 25 additional guest taps. Why? Because you have 100, you can have 25 guest taps (for 125 totals taps) because the additional 25 is no more than 25% of your own brands. As you can see, the law was confusing. So confusing, it’s hard to write out here. It would make a lot of sense if you could just count the taps, and not commit more than 25% of those taps to guests. For example, have 100 taps? Great, you can have 25 of them as guests—and that’s what I believe House Bill 1342 has done, even if it perhaps wasn’t its main intent.
Here’s the relevant part of H.B. 1342 with respect to this point:
(3) Any microbrewery licensed under this section may also sell from its premises for on-premises and off-premises consumption:
(a) Beer produced by another microbrewery or a domestic brewery ((
for on and off-premises consumption from its premises))as long as the other breweries’ brands do not exceed twenty-five percent of the microbrewery’s on-tap (( offerings of its own brands))offerings; or
(b) Cider produced by a domestic winery.
So, what’s up with these changes? A couple of things. First, it becomes notable that if you have cider on tap, it’s a part of your “on-tap offerings”, so having cider on tap becomes part of your offerings for the purposes of your 25% calculation. Maybe that’s the only thing the law was written to do. I’d like to believe, though, that it was also intended to eliminate the weird calculation problem above. Even if not, it appears to do so. Read the excerpt again. You can sell beer produced by another brewery, as long as guest taps don’t exceed 25% of your on-tap offerings. You can’t commit more than 25% of your total tap share to brewery guests. Interestingly, though, the law doesn’t say split about restricting your cider offerings. I’ll report separately about that (as well as another implication about the 25% rule I’d like to note…so stay tuned if you’re into this stuff).
Whatever the case, House Bill 1342 is a bit of a win for anyone who (1) doesn’t want to break out the calculator to compliantly allocate guest taps and (2) wants to allocate a bit more to guest taps. Let’s apply it. Under the new law, it seems that if you have 100 taps, 25% can be guests. So, 75 of them must be your beer or ciders, and then 25 can feature your favorite third-party breweries. Compare this to the old setup. Let’s say you had 75 of your own beers on tap. The old law said guests couldn’t exceed 25% of that. We know that 25% of that is 18.75. So, they compare this way:
Compliant Under New Law: 75 house taps or cider taps, up to 25 guest taps.
Compliant Under Old Law: 75 house taps, 18 guest taps.
Clear as mud? I’ll follow up soon to cover this, and a few other notable notes.
Last, bear in mind that H.B. 1342 also was specifically focused on getting cider flowing, and did nothing (but pave the way for the bright craft future) to get wine flowing at a non-restaurant microbrewery with a proper wine endorsement. In any event, it still counts as another win for the Washington beer industry, and our kindred cider-producing spirits. Though, speaking of spirits…well, we’ll leave that for another day. Here’s a link to the passed bill.
A few months back, we reported on the “Slow Ride” brewery trademark dispute involving New Belgium in Colorado and Oasis in Texas. The gist is, New Belgium filed a lawsuit in Colorado seeking clarification of its geographic rights to “Slow Ride.” Both breweries had a beer by the name, New Belgium had filed for a trademark, but the Texas brewery had sold some beer under the name before New Belgium filed for the trademark. You can review our basic notes on the case here.
Today, we have an update. It’s a bit of a nerdy procedural one, but for any non-J.D. onlookers, it’ll help make sense of what happened. A Colorado judge has dismissed the case (Here’s a link to the judge’s order). The dismissal, though, doesn’t mean the dispute is over. Parties to a lawsuit typically seek to file the lawsuit near their home court, so they don’t have to go prosecute a lawsuit in another state. Here, New Belgium filed in Colorado. Importantly, though, the legal system does not allow a company to sue just anywhere it pleases. There is a requirement that the defendant have a sufficient connection to the state to make holding the lawsuit there just. I’ll note that any law students reading this have just cringed, recalling first year Civil Procedure discussions about what’s known as Personal Jurisdiction. In any event, due process requires that the defendant have sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state such that the maintenance of the suit in that forum does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. (Thanks, Professor Cooper.)
A lot of money can be spent about whether there’s personal jurisdiction to support the lawsuit, and that’s what happened here. A judge has not gotten to the merits of the trademark dispute at all. A Colorado judge merely found that Oasis did not have a sufficient enough connection to Colorado to hold the lawsuit there. What kinds of connections did New Belgium allege that Oasis had to Colorado, to support holding the lawsuit there? Attending the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado, and then also sending cease and desist letters to New Belgium in the state. These weren’t enough to make it just to hail an out-of-state brewery into Colorado federal court.
So, where do we stand? No doubt, New Belgium’s filing of the declaratory judgment action was a maneuver to avoid having to deal with a lawsuit in Texas, which would be on Oasis’s home court. Moreover, and most likely, it was also filed to hopefully spur (Texas pun initially unintended) this lawsuit into settlement. Both parties have made public statements that they’re interested in settling. But, it’s a slow ride indeed. We’ll see what happens, and report back when we know more.