Beer names are running out, sending breweries to court


There is one unintended consequence of the craft beer revolution: breweries are running out of names for beer.

The number of breweries has nearly tripled in the last few years to over 6,000 across the United States.  Charlotte, North Carolina opened their first local brewery back in 2009, and now have nearly 50.  Fresh, tasty beer is available all across the area, and many breweries ship their latest batches across the United States. It is no wonder that the surge of craft brews has created a surge in trademark disputes.

Naming a Brew

Breweries spend countless hours developing the perfect recipe for their new beer. There are months between brewing to a finished product. Then more time is spent developing a name and label that will jump out to potential customers both at a bar and a bottle shop. Finally comes beer festivals, advertising, distribution, and hopefully selling beer across the country.

Many brewers finally reach the point of selling beer across the country, only to find out another brewery already owns the name for that beer. Some are even finding their beer names trademarked by other brewers despite using the name for years, according to NPR. There are simply are not enough good names for all these breweries to come up with unique names for all their different beers. The Harvard Law Review recently published a journal article finding both more trademark depletion and trademark congestion, and yes, it definitely applies to beer.

Problems for Brewers

The result is fewer “competitive” names available for trademark protection. Brewers are also at risk for being sued on their logo, packaging, and overall look. Even a similar look can get a brewer in trouble. Miller Light repackaged Keystone Light to highlight “Stone,” causing Stone Brewing to file suit because they believed it was so close to their beer it causes confusion.

Brewery Options

Brewers need to consider their options before the beer has even been brewed. There are really only two options for brewers hoping to sell beer farther than a few miles from their brewery.

1. Hope for the best

This is an enticing option, as it takes no time and costs no money. The problem here is brewers can spend years developing a name, brand, and product, only to have to change it. Another brewery could prevent beer sales in further geographic locations, or cut back where the brewery can use that beer name. It is a potential costly headache that could require a brand to rebuild the goodwill in their brew.

2. Protect your beer with trademarks and a trademark search

First and foremost, brewers should check if their potential brewery name or beer name is used elsewhere. A simple Google search result would be helpful, but the best option is searching the USPTO for a registered word and design trademark. The most important result would be finding a similar name in your product’s international trademark class. If there are no registered marks matching this beer, the brewery should trademark the name and design.

For brewers that want the best protection on their products, they should contact a qualified attorney to complete a trademark search and file for all available intellectual property protections.