One of this industry’s best characteristics is the collaborative sense that rising tides raise all boats. Small brewers, more so than any other industry I know, help each other. They share successes and failures, tips and techniques, ideas and improvements. They do this in the belief that the success of each craft brewery improves the craft beer market overall.
From my perspective, one of the interesting ways this cooperation plays out is in resolving disputes over trademarks. Sure, there have been some well-publicized battles over trademarks and some have had to change the names of their breweries or their beers. But, far more often these issues are resolved by a phone call from one brewer to another, followed by a meeting over a few of their respective products.
Generally, large companies are far more protective of their trademark portfolios and police them more vigorously than small companies. Of course they do… they can afford to. They have huge litigation budgets with armies of attorneys at their disposal. So, will all of this industry consolidation mean the end of resolving trademark disputes with a handshake and a beer? I would like to say no, but realistically, the big conglomerates and private equity firms are likely to use their more expansive resources to bully smaller brewers into rebranding.
The best protection a small brewer has against this risk is to build its own trademark portfolio. Protecting your brand with registered trademarks is important in any industry. But, the net effect of the industry consolidation we are seeing in craft beer is to make trademarks essential. A registered trademark offers nationwide protection against another brewer, even a massive one, adopting the same or similar name.
For many start-up breweries, registering trademarks may seem like an unnecessary expense. But, compared to the cost of rebranding, both in terms of dollars spent and market recognition lost, trademarks are downright cheap.
If you would like more information about the benefits of registration or how to build a trademark portfolio without breaking the bank, give me a call.