The Importance of Trademark Registration for Breweries

So you’ve got a brewery or you’re planning to start a brewery, what are the typical issues you worry about? Financing, federal and state licensing, recipe formulation, hop contracts, distribution, employees, mash pH, and a million other things. One issue that is frequently overlooked by both new and experienced brewers, however, is federal trademark registration. While it’s much easier to focus on hard assets like mash tuns and bottling lines, a brewery’s most important piece of property is its brand, and the distillation of your brand is a trademark. Your brand, i.e., your brewery name, beer names, and logos are the link between your beer and your consumers. Brewers spend their blood, sweat, and tears building up brand recognition so that when a customer walks into a bar, that customer will seek out that brewer’s beer. Now imagine that you receive a cease and desist letter and you’re forced to change your brewery or beer name, even after years of use, and all of a sudden your customers aren’t able to make that link. This can be a devastating blow to a brewery, and it is happening more and more these days. There are over 6,000 breweries in America and there are only so many brewery/beer names out there.

A federal trademark is your best (though not an absolute) defense against such a trademark conflict. But there are other benefits to federal trademark registration as well including the following:

  • Nationwide notice of ownership of the mark and nationwide priority of use. In other words, your brewery’s right to use the trademark, and to exclude others from using the trademark, extends to all 50 states even if you haven’t sold beer there.
  • Protects against the subsequent federal registration by others of confusingly similar names. Thus, if another brewery were to try to register a trademark for your brewery’s name or beer name, the United States Patent and Trademark Office would prevent them from doing so.
  • Serves as evidence of the validity and exclusive ownership of your mark at trial
  • Allows you to use the ® symbol, which puts others on notice of your federal registration
  • Grants the right to file a trademark infringement action in federal court, which provides different and better recovery options than a suit in state court.
  • Deters others from using or applying for your trademark.

So what is the best course of action? First, conduct a proper trademark search before deciding on your brewery name or beer names. Second, apply for and obtain federal trademark registrations, preferably on an intent-to-use filing basis.