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Microbreweries- Why Trademarks Matter

Craft beer is becoming evermore popular, especially with younger generations. Craft breweries seem to be popping up all over, in big cities and in small towns. On top of producing creative new beverages, craft breweries also have to come up with creative new names for both their breweries and their brews. All of this creativity produces a need in the microbrewery industry for trademark protection.

What Needs to be Protected?

First, it’s important to protect the name of the microbrewery. Most microbreweries only have one location, or a few regional locations. But, successful microbreweries may choose to sell their products in local grocery stores or party stores. The only thing tying those products to the microbrewery itself is the name of the brewery, which will appear on labels, boxes, and other marketing materials. In order to get that brand recognition, it is essential to choose a name that can be used on those marketing materials without any infringement issues, and to protect that name with a U.S. trademark registration

Second, it’s important to protect the names of a microbrewery’s products; most frequently, this will include different beers or different lines of beer. A great example of this is Founder’s Brewing Co.’s “All Day Series.” “All Day” is the name of the series of beers, but the beers themselves also have unique names such as “All Day IPA,” “All Day Haze,” and “All Day Vacay.” It’s important for a microbrewery to ensure that these names can be protected and pose no infringement issues, and to subsequently protect all of these names with a U.S. trademark registration.

Brand recognition is essential to small businesses, and both business and product names are essential to brand recognition. Especially for small business, making sure these names are available without infringement issues and subsequently protected through a U.S. trademark registration is vital for brand growth.

Are Your Names Available?

As mentioned above, the first step to protecting the name of a microbrewery and the names of a microbrewery’s products is to ensure that a name is available to protect and does not pose any infringement issues. How is this done? A good first step is to do a simple Google search. But, just doing a Google search is not thorough enough to give you all the information you need. That’s why it’s important to hire a trademark attorney to perform a more thorough trademark search to confirm that your mark can be protected with a U.S. trademark registration. Trademark attorneys have strategies to search for possible trademark conflicts through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Your trademark attorney will be able to share any possible conflicts with you and give you a probability of success after they conduct a trademark search.

How do you Protect your Names?

If your trademark attorney gives you a reasonable probability of success of registrability, the next step is to protect your microbrewery’s and products’ names is to file a U.S. trademark application. Your trademark attorney will file your U.S. trademark application(s) with the USPTO, and will keep you appraised of any communications, Office Actions, and deadlines on your application through its potential registration. From application to registration, the process can take ten months to a year to complete. The length of time will depend on not only the length of time it takes for the USPTO to review your application(s), but also whether the USPTO requires you and your attorney to make any changes to the application.

Trademark registrations can protect either the words of a name, or both the words and the design surrounding those words . In other words, trademark registrations can protect either word marks or design marks. Your trademark attorney will be able to analyze your trademark to determine which classification suits your needs best. But, both can be potentially be protected. You can find more information on the difference between word marks and design marks here.

Geographic Names

One common issue with microbreweries comes up when they try to use “geographic names.” This simply means that the names a brewery uses are descriptive of the location of the brewery. While this seems appealing for business that primarily sell to local crowds, geographic names are typically much more difficult to register since the USPTO does not like to register geographically descriptive marks. Even so, geographic names that are design marks, instead of just word marks, have a higher likelihood of being allowed to register. The more distinct the mark is, the better. If a geographic name cannot get the protection of a registered trademark name, the best it can get are common law rights; these exist where one entity has been continuously using a name in commerce for longer than others. But, these rights are not nearly as strong as the rights given by a federally registered trademark. A truly unique, non-descriptive name makes for the strongest trademark, and a trademark that can be protected through federal registration.

Please reach out to us to get more information on protecting the name of your microbrewery and the names of products your microbrewery produces!

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