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.