As seen in May/June American Bar Association magazine Landslide

Trademarks in the Craft Beer Community

Candace Moon is the founder of The Craft Beer Attorney, APC in San Diego, CA, specializing in the legal issues faced by craft breweries. Stacy Hostetter, a University of San Diego School of Law student, currently works for the Craft Beer Attorney.

Trademarks have been a hot button issue in the craft beer industry lately. There are more and more craft breweries opening every month across the country, but only so many plays to be had on the word “hop.” While the fight for distinctive branding and first use is the same in beer as it is in other industries, one element has traditionally set craft beer apart: community. It may well be the collaborative aspect of the beer world—whether it be through recipe sharing or support in the taproom—that has allowed for such impressive growth in the industry. As the scene becomes ever more crowded, however, the collaborative community has taken a few hits and trademark disputes have frequently been the epicenter of such controversies.

Many of the trademark disputes are entirely valid—a similar mark or design is being used on similar products. The mutual love of craft beer allows for a good deal of peaceful coexistence though. It is important to remember the industry before jumping to a standard cease and desist. As lawyers, we certainly cannot call up a brewer and educate him or her on how a particular brand violates our client’s trademark, but our client can. A lot can be accomplished when two beer loving people sit down over a beer with an idea of solving an issue rather than bullying the competition.

Even if a cease and desist letter is required, the standard legal recitations should likely be set aside for the first attempt. In our experience, a softer tactic has proven far more successful. This is likely partly because of the proven force of social media. A cease and desist letter sent to a brewery is very likely to end up splashed across the relevant consumer blogs. Recent debacles have led entire swaths of customers to swear off ever buying from a particular brewery again because of trademark demands that seemed unreasonable to the community. The community of craft beer may be going through growing pains, but lawyers would be well advised to keep the tradition of collaboration in mind when drafting their correspondence.