This month, “Willy Wonka” filmmaker Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (“Warner Bros.”) formally opposed Georgia-based South Sky Brewing Company’s (“Southern Sky”) federal trademark application for its “Golden Ticket” branded beer, reinforcing the importance of consulting with an experienced trademark lawyer before using or registering a new beer brand name.

How can a craft brewery protect itself and its name, brands, logos and slogans?

“Golden Ticket” Beer and Trademark Application

Founded in 2012, Southern Sky is a craft brewery that distributes four “mainstays” and a variety of specialty and seasonal brews throughout the Atlanta metro area.

Southern Sky originally brewed its Golden Ticket seasonal chocolate milk stout in March 2016 for a Georgia beer festival, and now fills growlers on premises and sells half and sixth barrel kegs through local retailers. Last June, Southern Sky filed a federal trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to register the “Golden Ticket” name for beer.

Willy Wonka and Warner Bros. Trademarks

Warner Bros. is a movie studio with an expansive film library, including the 1971 cult classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and the 2005 adaptation “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” In both films, children seek out golden tickets hidden in Wonka candy bar wrappers to win a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and a chance for an unknown grand prize.

Warner Bros. owns a federal trademark registration for the word mark GOLDEN TICKET in connection with a variety of clothing items. The filmmaker has also filed separate, pending trademark applications to extend protection to slot machines and lottery tickets (although a third-party letter of protest challenging the lotto ticket application has been accepted).

Warner Bros. Trademark Opposition

On March 1, 2017, Warner Bros. filed a notice of opposition with the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) challenging Southern Sky’s GOLDEN TICKET trademark application. Warner Bros. previously requested, and was granted, two extensions of time to oppose the subject application and confer with Southern Sky’s trademark lawyer.

Warner Bros. claims that Southern Sky’s registration of GOLDEN TICKET for beer is likely to cause confusion with the studio’s mark and may suggest Warner Bros.’ endorsement or sponsorship of the beer because it is chocolate-flavored. Warner Bros. further alleges (without providing evidence) that Southern Sky “is obviously using a well-known mark derived from [Warner Bros.’] children’s mark to promote under age consumption of its alcoholic products.”

To avoid entry of a default judgment and abandonment of its GOLDEN TICKET trademark application, Southern Sky must file an answer with the TTAB by April 10, 2017.

How a Trademark Lawyer Can Help

With new beers being released every day, and a shortage of creative names to go around, breweries can expect that an increasing number of trademark enforcement actions will be brought by famous brand owners. In fact, Southern Sky is not even the only (or least subtle) brewery selling a “Golden Ticket” chocolate stout.

Once logos are designed, websites are updated and labels are approved and printed, an unwelcome trademark surprise can prove costly for a craft brewery. As the above-referenced case illustrates, it is essential that businesses conduct a thorough trademark clearance search before committing to a new brand name. Breweries that are interested in minimizing their legal risk and maximizing brand protection should contact an experienced trademark lawyer.