Licenses and trademarks and beers… oh my!
It’s likely that you’ve seen or heard about some licensing and trademark battle in the beer industry, such as: “Stillwater Artisanal Ales LLC sues Stillwater Brewing Co. for trademark infringement,” or “Trademark infringement claim by Yorkshire brewery,” or “Bell’s Brewery files trademark infringement lawsuit after Ann Arbor grocery stocks competitor.”
One may argue, “These are only words. Does it really matter if a can of BELL from one brewery sits next to a bottle of BELL’S from another brewery? Does it really matter if there are two Stillwater breweries in the USA? They are only words. Does it really matter if the logo looks the same? It’s only a picture. The products, the businesses, they speak for themselves. The words don’t matter. What’s behind the words matters.”
Does it really matter if our beers, our businesses, are named the same?
Does it matter if our logos look alike?
I say yes.
“Names are an important key to what a society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.”
—David S. Slawson
It does matter.
People get confused. They don’t realize that the beers are produced by different places. Many will drink and think, “mediocre, average,” and attribute it to the wrong brewery. You, smart reader, may not be one of these people.
Memory is a tricky thing in the average person.
Some of us recall words easily, others of us focus on color and lettering.
Businesses put human and financial effort into building and distinguishing their brands. Many realize that the words that describe their product, service, or business are so important that they legally purchase the ability to use specific words, phrases and graphics; they purchase the right in the form of registered trademarks, service marks, copyrights, and patents. This gives them the protection from others encroaching on their name, their reputation.
So, what’s a beer business to do when choosing a name?
Start with due diligence on your words, your brands
Is it hard to research, to do your homework, before settling on a brand name? Not so much. It’s really pretty easy to see if the name you’re interested in using are already in use by someone else:
- Does someone own the trademark? Use TESS, the United States Trademark Electronic Search System, to perform a few simple keyword searches to see if the name, or a form of it, is owned by another business.
- Is there a beer or business already using the name? Search both businesses and beers on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer.
- Will I be able to acquire the domain name? Check the .com and other domain availability using a service like GoDaddy or Network Solutions.
…and if someone’s already using the name? …the image? Put that brainstorming cap back on!