Craft brewery startups need trademarks, other cautions to prevent exploitation

Q&A with Cliff Dougherty

published in The Oklahoman | January 11, 2017

In recent years, the craft beer industry has been one of the fastest growing and most popular alcoholic beverage segments in the United States. In a Q&A with The Oklahoman, McAfee & Taft attorney Cliff Dougherty discussed the competitiveness of the industry and some of the key steps startups need to address before entering the marketplace.

“Creativity is paramount, from the overall ingredients used to make the beer and the artistic label and marketing materials used to sell the beer, to the decor of the tap room used to serve the beer,” said Dougherty. “As a result, there are some key intellectual property considerations that should be addressed by craft brewery startups at an early stage.”

At the top of the list of branding considerations, said Dougherty, is the need for a legal opinion from a qualified trademark attorney confirming that the company name or primary brand is available. Companies who wait to obtain a trademark availability opinion until a positive cash flow is achieved may face major setbacks of time and money later on.

“It’s a ‘pay a little now’ situation or ‘pay a lot later,’ which may mean having to change the company name or primary brand a few years down the road, perhaps just as the company expands into a new territory.”

Other intellectual property concerns for craft brewery startups include IP asset ownership issues, trade secret protection policies, the enforcement of trademarks and copyrights, and, in some cases, patents to protect inventions, he said.