Making Your Mark in the Craft Beer Business, Part One – Identifying and Protecting Your Trademarks

Posted by:

According to the Brewer’s Association there were over 6,000 craft breweries operating in the United States at the end of 2017. In an increasingly crowded market, how do you ensure that the craft beer consumer is able to distinguish your brewery from your competitors? You should begin by identifying your trademarks.

A trademark is any word, phrase, symbol or design that uniquely identifies the source of one company’s goods from those of other companies. While the law in the United States recognizes a broad range of “source identifiers” as trademarks, most companies focus their intellectual property protection efforts on brand names, slogans and logos. Especially at the early stages of your business, it is important to focus your protection efforts on the essential elements of your brand. For example, your brewery may have a dozen regular varieties of beer, plus several small release or seasonal brews throughout the year. Seeking trademark registrations for each of your beers may quickly deplete your legal budget, and so a more focused approach is usually the best course of action. For most breweries, their primary protection efforts should focus first on their brewery name and logos, and then on the names of one or two of their flagship beers.

In the United States, a brewery’s trademark rights arise at the time it starts using the mark in commerce. This means that the first person to begin using a trademark in connection with the sale of beer owns that mark, and may be able to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks on beer and beer-related goods and services. That is, a registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is not necessary to own a trademark. However, these “common law” rights are limited in that they can only be applied to the geographic area in which you are selling your beer. Any business that is serious about protecting its brand should seriously consider applying for registration of the essential names and logos.

Some of the benefits that federal trademark registration provides to the trademark owner include:

(1) Preventing infringement problems before they begin by making your marks easy to find in a search of marks registered with the USPTO;

(2) Getting the USPTO to do a degree of enforcement on your behalf by preventing the registration of other marks found to be confusingly similar by the USPTO’s examiners;

(3) Giving you nationwide priority when your marks might otherwise be limited to the geographic area in which you are using the mark;

(4) Putting other companies on notice of your trademark rights so that they cannot claim that their subsequent use of your mark was in “good faith;”

(5) Creating a presumption of validity and ownership of your mark in the event that you need to sue another company for infringing your trademark rights;

(6) Providing the ability to recover treble damages and attorney’s fees in “exceptional” cases of trademark infringement;

(7) Providing the ability to recover statutory damages in cases involving counterfeiting;

(8) Giving you the ability to file for “incontestability” after five years of registration, which severely limits other companies’ ability to invalidate your trademark;

(9) Empowering Customs and Border Protection to block imports that infringe your trademark rights, including counterfeit products, once you record your trademark registration with Customs; and

(10) Granting you the right to use the ® symbol in connection with your beer, further putting your competitors on notice of your trademark rights.

Even if you’re in the planning process, and have not begun selling your beer yet, you may apply on an “intent-to-use” basis, meaning that you have concrete plans to begin using your mark in connection with the sale of beer. An intent-to-use application allows you to claim priority over other companies who might begin using your mark or a confusingly similar mark in the period between your application date and the date you start actually using the mark.

Keep in mind that you may not be able to establish exclusive trademark rights in a mark that is generic or descriptive of your products. For example, if you’re selling an IPA called “Hoppy IPA,” you will likely be unable to stop other breweries from using the name “Hoppy” in connection with their hop-forward beers. The “Hoppy” mark would be deemed descriptive because it describes a characteristic of the beer. The only way to establish trademark rights in a descriptive mark is to show that consumers associate the mark with your company. In the “Hoppy IPA” example, that means that consumers who hear “Hoppy” would need to immediately connect that term with your brewery.

On the other hand, you can reference a characteristic of your beer with a suggestive mark that requires consumers to use some imagination to connect your mark to the product. For example, consider Deschutes’ “Fresh Squeezed” mark for their IPA brewed with Citra hops, which alludes to the citrus notes in their beer. Stronger still are arbitrary names that have no direct connection to your beer or its characteristics (think “Stone Brewing” or “Rogue Ales”) or fanciful names you made up that have no literal meaning (like “Mikkeller” or “CANarchy”).

Stay tuned for Part Two of our brewery-focused trademark posts, in which we will discuss considerations regarding coexistence agreements.

Conkle, Kremer and Engel has assisted its clients in securing and protecting their trademarks for over thirty years. Whether you’re in the planning stages or already operating your brewery, contact Zachary Page or CK&E’s intellectual property team for help identifying or protecting your trademarks.

0

Consumers are Exposed to Extreme Risks from Counterfeit Products

Posted by:

Some consumers may view offers of brand name goods from sellers not within the manufacturer’s regular distribution chain as just a way to “get a good deal.”  But those offers can result in purchasers receiving counterfeit products, which are no bargain and can expose unknowing consumers to some of the worst risks imaginable.

At the very least, counterfeit products are frauds – they are not from the manufacturer whose trademark appears on the product, so the consumer is cheated out of the quality that the brand represents.  But in reality, the consumer has absolutely no idea what the contents and construction of a counterfeit product may be – it is a product of unknown origin, regardless of whether the consumer purchased from a known reseller.  Because virtually any product a consumer can purchase can be counterfeited, consumers can be placed in great danger from unknowingly purchasing substandard products.  A couple of recent events in the news highlight the extreme risks of counterfeit products.

In April 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it had raided sellers of supposedly discount brand name cosmetics, and seized $700,000 of counterfeits.  Consumers had complained to the brand manufacturers that makeup products they purchased were causing rashes and bumps on their skin.  The products were determined to be counterfeits that tested positive for high levels of bacteria and animal waste.  This is undoubtedly because the counterfeits are not manufactured with any quality controls or regulatory oversight – they are the result of a black market, pirate operation.  LAPD Detective Rick Ishitani was quoted in the press as saying, “Those feces will just basically somehow get mixed into the product they’re manufacturing in their garage or in their bathroom — wherever they’re manufacturing this stuff.”  One of the brands asserted to be counterfeit was Kylie Cosmetics. Kylie Jenner’s sister, Kim Kardashian West, tweeted:  “Counterfeit Kylie lip kits seized in LAPD raid test positive for feces. SO GROSS! Never buy counterfeit products!”

The risks to consumers of counterfeits unfortunately do not stop even there.  An even more extreme case of product counterfeiting hit the press a few days later.  Tragically, famed rock artist Prince died in April 2016.  It was soon determined that he had died from an overdose of fentanyl, an extremely powerful and dangerous synthetic opioid.  But in April 2018, local prosecutors announced that Prince had consumed the fentanyl by taking tainted counterfeit Vicodin, a brand name medication of AbbVie, Inc.  There was no determination as to how Prince obtained the counterfeit Vicodin pharmaceuticals.  “In all likelihood, Prince had no idea he was taking a counterfeit pill that could kill him.  Others around Prince also likely did not know that the pills were counterfeit containing fentanyl,”  Carver County, Minnesota Attorney Mark Metz was quoted as saying at a news conference.

Some believe that counterfeits can be identified by the price alone, and warn against buying brand name products at steep discounts.  While an inexplicably low price is certainly a red flag of a potential counterfeit, in fact counterfeit products are often sold to consumers at prices very close to those of the brand name product.  This is often because many intermediaries have handled the product, taking a profit with each transaction, in the course of a murky gray market distribution process.

The popularity of online sales make the risks even worse for consumers, as it is nearly impossible for the consumer to inspect the product before purchase and delivery, and it is often very difficult for consumers to determine who is actually selling the product online.  For example, many popular online sellers act as marketplaces for innumerable third party sellers, and a purchaser cannot always determine which seller will actually deliver the product purchased.

If you are a consumer, you really need to exercise great caution when considering purchases of brand name products from sellers who are not in that manufacturer’s authorized distribution channels.  It generally matters little whether the seller is known to the consumer – it only matters where the seller obtained the product.

If you are a brand name manufacturer or trademark holder who suspects that unauthorized parallel market sellers may be offering counterfeit products, you are well advised to promptly contact counsel well-versed in the issues and methods of enforcement of your intellectual property rights.

 

 

 

0

Counterfeits Can Take the Joy Out of the Holidays

Posted by:

As the holiday shopping season reaches peak fervor and consumers seek out the best deals available on hot products, gift-givers are more at risk of purchasing counterfeit products of all kinds.  Recently, news articles have warned of counterfeit Fingerlings – the latest “it” toy – along with fake versions of popular electronics, clothing, personal care products, and many other types of goods.  Government bureaus like the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol regularly release holiday bulletins advising of the escalating volume of phony products entering the United States (for example, https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/buyer-beware-counterfeit-goods-and-holiday-shopping-season).  Counterfeits are far from harmless.  Not only are these counterfeit goods generally inferior to authentic products in both quality and safety, fake products are fraud, theft, and infringements of valuable trademarks and other intellectual property.  Sales of counterfeit products can even be criminal.

As a consumer, what can you do to help ensure you’re receiving the genuine article?  The most obvious method is to avoid unfamiliar sources and to buy directly from the manufacturer’s website or from an authorized retailer whenever possible.  If buying on websites like Amazon and eBay (where products are often actually sold by unrelated third parties), it helps to make sure that the seller of the product is the manufacturer or Amazon itself, not an unknown third party.  Often times, third party sellers do not have the ability or desire to properly perform checks on the goods they are selling, and in many cases the third party sellers never actually possess the products – when they receive your order they simply forward the product from a warehouse they have never even seen.  While outlets like Amazon and eBay have some anti-counterfeiting policies and procedures, experience has shown that not every fake product will be screened out.  Consumers should also check the price of the goods to ensure that it is not abnormally low, and examine the packaging and presentation of the product as depicted on the website to help determine whether the product might be fake or foreign-labeled goods.  Compare the look of the product offered with the same product on the manufacturer’s website – if it’s different, that’s a red flag.  Consumers should also not hesitate to contact the manufacturer if they suspect that they have received counterfeit or foreign-labeled goods – in addition to being the primary victims, consumers are often the first line of defense in the fight against counterfeiting.

As a manufacturer or trademark owner, what can you do when you discover your products being sold in an unauthorized channel, with risk of counterfeiting?  Conkle, Kremer & Engel has extensive experience helping manufacturers and distributors to investigate and, when necessary, litigate counterfeit and other trademark- and intellectual property-infringement claims.  CK&E attorneys are well-versed in the careful initial steps that should promptly be taken when sales of illicit products are suspected.  If the seller is cooperative, litigation can often be avoided.  But if the seller is not, that is a strong indicator that the seller has been selling, and will continue to sell, infringing products unless stopped through litigation.  Whatever you choose to do, consult experienced counsel and decide on your course of action promptly – unreasonable delays can seriously harm your ability to protect your rights.

0

The Conkle Firm Will Sponsor and Moderate Panel at Counterfeiting & Brand Protection Summit in New York

Posted by:

John Conkle of the Conkle, Kremer & Engel will moderate a panel presentation at the 13th Anti-Counterfeiting & Brand Protection Summit, on October 1, 2014 in New York City.  The title of the presentation will be Combining Forces:  Coordination of Public and Private Sectors against Pirates and Counterfeiters.  The panel will consist of preeminent experts on effective enforcement of civil and criminal anti-counterfeiting laws:  Marc Misthal (Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman LLP), James T. Hayes Jr. (Special Agent in Charge, ICE Homeland Security Investigations, New York Field Office), and Jodie Kane (Chief of Rackets Bureau of the New York County District Attorney’s Office).

Confronting product counterfeiters can be an expensive, labor intensive and sometimes frustrating task, particularly when undertaken as a solo effort.  The panel sponsored and moderated by CK&E will highlight strategies for combining the strength of private enforcement and available public sector resources to combat counterfeiters using all available tools.  The panel will assess when and how to use civil resources in partnership with criminal enforcement for the most effective and cost-effective assault on product counterfeiters.  The panel will address practical steps to best leverage the strengths and resources of both arms against the scourge of counterfeiters, illustrating points with real world experiences.

Join us and learn how to get the most bang for your brand protection buck in the battle to defeat counterfeiters.  CK&E is proud to again sponsor this important brand protection event.

0