Beer trademarks are heating up. Zachary Hiller Patent Attorney Houston, TX

The craft brewing world is booming. According to the Brewers Association, craft breweries in the US have seen a double digit growth pattern for almost a decade. It seems that there are two things that craft brewers really like: a quality brew and some really funny puns. The craft beer field is full of punny names to go with their artisanal  creations; from He’Brew, the chosen beer, to Peter Cotton Ale, and even a Walking Dead themed IPA made with blood orange.  A couple of our other favorite names include Hoptimus Prime, from Ruckus Brewing, and Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale, from Black Sheep Brewery, which boasts on its label that it is a golden ale tempered over burning witches. As you can see it is an industry that has a sense of humor. One thing that it doesn’t find so funny is trouble with its beer trademarks, cases of which have been heating up over the past few years.

Beer Trademarks are heating up in the craft brew world

Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale as seen in the wild. Photo Courtesy: Buzzfeed

Trouble Brewing With Beer Trademarks

We first wrote about beer trademarks over a year ago. Since then, more and more trademark cases have popped up as small breweries battle to protect their intellectual properties. One such case, as mentioned in the Wall Street Journal this week, cites an incident between a small Fresno, California brewery and another craft brewer across the nation in Brooklyn.

The two companies were in dispute over the use of California company’s use of the name Black Ops Brewing. As the article mentioned, the Brooklyn Brewery already had a beer in production named Brooklyn Black Ops. After three months of litigation and a preliminary injunction, two of the co-founders of the California brewery, Justin Campagne and  Brandon Broussard, opted to change the name to Tactical Ops Brewing Inc. Even this brief legal battle has taken its toll on the small brewery. which is so small that the founders don’t like to refer to it as a micro-brewery but rather a nano-brewery. According to the article, the fees involved in the case were close to five times what the business is worth.

Beer trademarks are heating up.

Photo Courtesy:Buzzfeed

How To Prevent A Costly Brouhaha

This case is not an isolated incident. In fact, the same Wall Street Journal article estimates that these legal disputes are becoming the new norm, with an average rate of two new cases per day. It appears that these battles have become part of the cost of doing business for some breweries. The chief executive of Brooklyn Brewery, Eric Ottaway, had this to say in the Wall Street Journal article:

“There’s kind of bittersweet victories in a lot of these,” Mr. Ottaway said. “Yes, you can protect your trademark, but you still spend a lot of money doing it.” He adds: “I wish I didn’t have to spend $200,000 a year to defend trademarks. But on the other hand… if you lose your brand, you don’t have much left.”

For new brewery start-ups the best solution may be an ounce of prevention. Working with a trademark attorney to research potential violations before you bring your brew to market may be the best way to ensure the only case that you produce are cases of beer. This is especially true as the craft beer market continues to explode, and clever names get trademarked quickly. For established brewers, having a trademark attorney on retainer may be the best way to catch burgeoning violations before they have a chance to take root. Either way, the name of the game is to catch these issues before they can evolve into large and costly brew-hahas.

It seems the craft beer industry is not the only one that spins a good pun!

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