In recent months, the craft beer industry has seen its share of trademark infringement lawsuits. Particularly because beer trademarks are grouped into the same classification as non-alcoholic beverages, it is difficult for new entrants in the beverage industry to find a non-infringing trademark. Finnegan partner B. Brett Heavner spoke with Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal to discuss how craft beer companies can avoid trademark disputes. He said:
"This is a good sign for craft beer industry–it shows the industry is growing. With that growth, comes growing pains. A lot of small breweries have focused solely on the taste of their beers, but as they grow they need to focus on business as well. A lot of the trademark disputes could have been avoided if the brewery did a trademark search before launching their new beers. A trademark search is the best way to ensure that the name you have chosen for your beer isn’t already taken by another brewery. Established larger businesses routinely do trademark searching before they rollout a new product. Google searches are not enough–there’s no guarantee that Google will alert you to important similar trademarks. Often the person accused of the infringement will launch a campaign to attack the trademark owner. However, if the owner doesn’t defend their trademark they are not practicing good business sense. A trademark is an important asset and allowing a competitor to use a similar trademark diminishes the value of that asset."
He went on to say that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website is a good place to start, but brands should also be aware of unregistered trademarks as well. Attorneys and professional search companies can assist with searches for unregistered trademarks by searching business directories and domain name databases. He advises paying for the proper search upfront to avoid costly litigation or product name changes in the future.