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Comment: Trademarks

When breweries get bigger, do they get nastier?

Do they lose their “craftyness”- whatever that is?

There have been a few instances of trademark lawsuits in the USA before, but the most recent has caused a backlash from consumers, and a bit of a Twitter storm.

Lagunitas recently start to sue Sierra Nevada (two of the largest craft beer breweries in the US) over trademarks. In this case the letters “IPA”.

Whether the lawsuit was really about protecting trademarks or about maintaining market share is something only Lagunitas will know.  But these are the tactics of the major “corporates” that the craft beer movement has fought against.   Lagunitas has now withdrawn the lawsuit after the online consumer backlash.

This may cost Lagunitas a lot of credibility and damage their brand that they have spent years building.

This article has the full story – http://goo.gl/ZMLh9S

Could it happen here?

The USA is a far more litigious society than Australia, but as the craft beer section of the beer market expands the business economics will drive the larger breweries to maintain and gain market share, not only from the big national corporate brewers but from each other.

According to IPAustralia, “a trade mark can be a letter, number, word, phrase, sound, smell, shape, logo, picture, aspect of packaging or any combination of these.”

Although trademarking generic names like IPA, Porter etc is difficult, breweries can trademark their particular logos and designs, which includes the labels and packaging.

Ever curious, we did a quick search of the trademarks of our Aussie brewers and it’s remarkable how many haven’t even trademarked their name or logo – never mind the names of their beers, their label (or can) designs, or any images they use to promote themselves.

And many haven’t updated their trademark protection as they have changed their logo’s.

Whilst the frivolity of lawsuits is lower here, some of our breweries need to be understanding this area now.

For instance, should one of those larger US craft breweries decide to export their beers here, or start up a new brewery, they could start to use similar (or the same) names with similar labelling and packaging to one of the growing craft beer breweries here.

This similarity of names and packaging is most often used by supermarkets with their “own brand” versions of popular products.  How long before the big supermarkets here really start to make inroads into the craft beer market?

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