Trademark Issues on the Rise

The beverage alcohol industry has seen a growing number of lawsuits over the last few years. We’ve seen two general forms of these: class action lawsuits concerning product classification and brand trademark lawsuits between companies. These lawsuits are proving to be time consuming, expensive, and a real hangover for those involved.

Class Action Lawsuits

We’ve discussed class action lawsuits previously in our post about “handmade” terminology and the litigation surrounding labels accused of being “misleading.” Most recently, MillerCoors has come under the spotlight for their Blue Moon brand labeled as “artfully crafted.” The suit claims MillerCoors has been misleading consumers into thinking Blue Moon is a craft beer, when the brand does not fit into the description of a craft beer as defined by the Brewer’s Association.

This is just one example of a brand being questioned because of its labeling. The wording, images, and even font are becoming increasingly scrutinized by both competitors and the public.

Trademark Lawsuits

Trademark lawsuits involving brand names is the other form of litigation being seen time and time again. This issue plagues all types of breweries — from larger, established breweries, such as Sierra Nevada, to small, newer breweries, such as Innovation Brewing in Sylva, NC.

This situation is reoccurring for one main reason — the industry is running out of names. Considering the growth the craft brew industry has experienced (there are now more than 3,000 breweries in the country) it is getting more and more difficult to create a brand with a name that isn’t already taken.

Occasionally, two breweries are able to find the silver lining in the situation, like Avery Brewing and Russian River Brewing did with their collaboration ale: Salvation. But more often, one supplier wins the trademark lawsuit, and one supplier is left to rebrand their product.

To navigate this situation in the industry, you have to know and understand your competitor’s brands. Spending time to research other brands can save you thousands of dollars and hours of stress down the road and knowing what other brands are doing protects you and your brand from future liabilities.

Ways to Monitor and Protect Your Brand

You can monitor other brands by using products like LabelVision. LabelVision offers a free version that allows you to research the entire TTB database. Additionally, this tool enables you to monitor brand names by other suppliers to confirm your brand isn’t already in use, and protects it from others.

Other products that can be helpful for trademark issues are TrademarkNow or Markify. Tools like these allow you to search and monitor trademarks and domain names. They automate the process to provide reports on your brand.

Whichever the method, monitoring your future and current brand is essential in this industry. If you have tactics or suggestions other than these, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Want to learn more about how LabelVision can help you monitor and protect your brands?

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2 Comments

  1. Lorraine Fleck

    This article is on-point in identifying litigation trends affecting the marketing of beverage alcohol. A further comment – as a trademark lawyer, I often regrettably observe that businesses have not performed sufficient due diligence to assess whether the trademarks they are interested in are available. In some countries, such as Canada, it is not enough to search the trademark office’s records, as unregistered rights can affect the availability of trademark. Also, businesses should be aware that pre-existing trademarks that are similar to a prospective trademark can also block the mark being considered. Preliminary screening tools should be followed by more robust searches by a trademark agent/lawyer in the relevant jurisdiction to confirm availability before a business invests in a trademark that may not be available. Otherwise, the business may invest in a trademark that has to be subsequently changed, resulting in money being spent on labels and marketing materials that have to be changed. Overall, the cost of lawyers fees and rebranding can be considerably more than investing in proper searches to begin with. Finally, businesses should register their trademarks in the appropriate jurisdictions to ensure they have the right to pursue legal action against copycats. Such trademark registrations can be valuable business assets that may also be used as collateral for loans to finance to expansion of the business, or may play a significant role in any acquisition of the business. Ultimately, when it comes to trademarks and brand protection, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    Reply
    • Rachel Bush - Marketing Coordinator

      Great information, Lorraine. Thanks so much for sharing!

      Reply

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