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Oct 2015
21
October 21, 2015

Craft Beer Trademark Battles


With now more than 3,000 breweries in the United States, it is increasingly important for brewers to craft a beer that stands out. A strong name, with great taste, will distinguish a beer in a crowded sea of competitors. The name is the first impression on a menu and the most frequently searched term on craft beer social media sites. As the craft beer scene grows to historic heights, so does the difficulty in creating and selecting a name that doesn’t conflict with others in the industry and beyond.
 
Trademark, cease and desist letters and battles over beer names are becoming increasingly common. A recent case involving Pigeon Hill Brewing Company in Muskegon, Michigan, received a cease and desist letter from the band LMFAO over its use of “LMFAO Stout.” The band claimed that Pigeon Hill’s use of the name would confuse consumers into thinking that the band endorsed the beer. Within two months, both parties, through their trademark attorneys, were able to amicably settle the dispute, with Pigeon Hill allowed to continue using the name “LMFAO Stout.”
 
Do not let the LMFAO case fool you. Not all trademark name disputes conclude so quickly and happily for breweries. For example, Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Tired Hands in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, were engaged in a very public dispute over the name Farmhand. The dispute ended with Tired Hands having to drop its use of the name, despite the beer’s popularity among patrons of the brewpub. A trademark dispute before a court or before the United States Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board can last for years, be quite onerous and expensive. With limited financial resources and a need to market new beer, start-up breweries cannot afford to make the wrong name selection on the first try. Getting the name right the first time is especially important in the social media age when disputes can tarnish image. 
 
The Pigeon Hill and Brewery Vivant cases are good examples of why engaging trademark counsel to conduct a trademark clearance search and provide an opinion on the availability of a trademark is so important. Doing so can save a brewery time, money, social media backlash and the headache of dealing with a cease and desist letter or a full-blown trademark dispute.
 
For more information on laws relating to trademark names and the craft brewing industry, contact your WN&J attorney or Scott Keller at 616.752.2479 or skeller@wnj.com; Jim Scott at 616.752.2469 or jscott@wnj.com; or Catherine Collins at 616.752.2473 or ccollins@wnj.com.

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