Here’s a position no 10-month-old brewery wants to be in. Out in Boulder, Colorado, a fledgling brewery initially selected the name Kettle and Stone Brewing, after a three-months-long name-selection process. As the brewery worked hard to brand themselves and build that brand, they received a letter from Escondido, California’s established and well-known Stone Brewing Co. observing that the use of “Kettle and Stone Brewing” was infringing on their trademark. In the letter, Stone gave the option of changing the young brewery’s name or keeping the name but just not expanding their trading territory, and Kettle and Stone didn’t want to fight this one out. They selected a new name, which they’ll announce soon, after they finish jumping through all the (expensive) hoops associated with name changing and settling things out with Stone, including selling off existing inventory branded with the former name.
On the flip side, no established brewery wants to be in the position this scenario put the folks at Stone in. The brewing industry is, after all, built on relationships and many established breweries are reluctant to deliver bad news to their brethren. Nevertheless, when you have a trademark, you’re charged with enforcing it, else you lose the strong rights you’ve established in it. Allowing Kettle and Stone Brewing might allow for further incursions into the Stone brand. One new brewery with the word “Stone” at the end of it might allow for another new brewery to open with the word “Stone” at the beginning of it, and so on. Before long, there could be a dozen breweries operating with the word “Stone” in it, and Stone has lost the branding power it sought and paid for in seeking a trademark registration. Sending a letter isn’t a malicious or petty move by a big brewery, as it frequently can be painted in the news. Still, there are friendly ways to deliver word that you think there may be a trademark conflict, and there are also friendly ways to react to that news. It looks like both breweries here did their best to politely and professionally address the issue.
So, if you’re a new brewery, how can you avoid getting a letter like this during your infancy, while you’re working hardest to establish your brand in your local community and beyond? Here, we can’t know whether Kettle and Stone Brewing conducted a professional clearance search with their lawyer before settling on the name. But, we really recommend doing so, for your brewery name and also for every beer you want to keep on brewing and potentially distributing into other markets. If you make a list of a few names you really like, your lawyer can let you know of any risks there might be in selecting those names. Keep in mind that just because your selected name is somewhat overlapping with another brewery’s, it doesn’t automatically mean you can’t use it. Think Russian River Brewing, Trout River Brewing, Six Rivers Brewery, Bent River Brewing, and so forth. And, the more distinctive of a name you choose—such as one involving a made-up word—the most confident you can be moving forward, both in avoiding getting letters like this and in avoiding having to send ones down the road.