The view toward trademarks among craft brewers generally ranges from indifference to hostility. I get it. You would rather spend your money developing and selling great beers than going through some bureaucratic process just to put a ® symbol on your labels.
Surely, though, you would rather spend your money on upgrading your brewing equipment than on insurance, but you wouldn’t open a brew pub without a policy to protect your investment. In a sense, that’s what a trademark is…an insurance policy for your brand.
If there is a dispute about the name of one of your beers and you decide to rename it, your expenses would include designing and printing new labels for your bottles, making new packaging, new tap handles, and changing any print or electronic marketing materials. Depending upon how widely distributed your product is, this could easily dwarf the cost of obtaining registration of your trademark.
If the dispute is about the name of your brewery or your logo, the costs increase dramatically. You would have to make changes to ALL of your labels and packaging, all of your signs and marketing, letterhead, business cards, t-shirts and other merchandise. Further, you would have to apply for name changes with the TTB and with the state and local licensing agencies. On top of all that, you would have to spend the time, money, and effort to inform your loyal customers of the rebranding.
If you decide to fight for your brand, this is the most expensive proposition of all. Just getting the lawyers involved in negotiations can rack up legal fees in the tens of thousands of dollars. If the case proceeds to litigation, your costs could easily reach six figures.
Does this mean you should immediately file for registration of your company name, logo, and all of your beer names? Ideally, yes. But, that’s too expensive a proposition for most craft breweries. In general, I recommend starting with registration of your brewery name and your logo, because those are the most expensive items to rebrand. Then, I suggest filing for protection of your most popular beers. Many craft brewers change their recipes often. Some recipes may take off and become year-round big sellers. Others may not get much attention and won’t be brewed again. Together we can develop a strategy that makes sense for your style of brewing and your distribution methods.
The most important thing is to get started right away. Operating a brand without a trademark is like operating a company without insurance. You may be fine for a while, but if disaster strikes, it’s going to cost you far more, in the end.