Craft Beer Trademarks (Part 1)

By Richard Stobbe

Canadians drink a lot of beer.

The number of licensed breweries in Canada has risen 100%  over  the  past  five  years to over 600. In Alberta and B.C. alone, the number of breweries doubled between 2010 and 2015.

Industry trends are shifting, driven by the growth in micro and craft breweries in Canada, a phenomenon mirrored in the U.S., where over 4,000 licensed breweries are vying for the business of consumers, the highest number of breweries in U.S. history.

And with this comes an outpouring of beer-related trademarks.  Brewery names and beer labels invariably lead to the clash of a few beer bottles on the litigation shelf. Let’s have a look at recent U.S. cases:

  • The mark ATLAS for beer was contested in the case of Atlas Brewing Company, LLC v. Atlas Brew Works LLC, 2015 TTAB LEXIS 381 (Trademark Trial & App. Bd. (TTAB) Sept. 22, 2015).
  • Atlas Brewing Company opposed the trademark application for ATLAS, arguing that there was a likelihood of confusion between ATLAS and ATLAS BREWING COMPANY. The TTAB agreed that there was a likelihood of confusion, since the two marks are virtually identical (the addition of “Brewing Company” is merely descriptive or generic) and the products are identical.
  • However, the TTAB ultimately decided that the applicant had earlier rights, since Atlas Brewing Company did not actually sell any products bearing the ATLAS BREWING COMPANY trademark before the filing date for the trademark application. The only evidence related to the pre-sales period – for example, private conversations, letters, and negotiations with architects, builders, and vendors of equipment. The TTAB characterized these as “more or less internal or organizational activities which would not generally be known by the general public”.
  • Secondly, there was evidence of social media accounts which used the ATLAS BREWING COMPANY name, but the TTAB was not convinced that this amounted to actual use of the brand as a trademark. “The act of joining Twitter on April 30, 2012, or Facebook on May 14, 2012, does not by itself establish use analogous to trademark use. “
  • Interestingly, the TTAB rejected the argument that the beer industry should be treated in a way similar to the pharmaceutical industry: Atlas Brewing Company argued that “there are special circumstances which apply because regulatory approval is required prior to being able to sell beer; and that the beer industry is similar to the pharmaceutical industry, where trademark rights may attach prior to the actual sales of goods, and government approvals are needed prior to actual sales to the general public.” The TTAB countered this by pointing out that pharma companies engaged in actual sales of the product bearing the trademark during the clinical testing phase, prior to introduction into the marketplace. In this case, however, there were no actual sales.
  • Thus, the opposition was refused and the application for ATLAS was allowed to proceed.

The old Atlas Brewing Company has since rebranded as Burnt City Brewing, with a knowing wink at the legal headaches: “We’ve all been burned by something, but now we’re back and better than ever.”

Hat tip to Foley Hoag for their round-up of American cases.

Related Reading: How the Craft Brew Boom Is Changing the Industry’s Trademark Game 


Calgary – 07:00 MST

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  1. […] Part 1 we noted the growth in the craft beer industry in Canada and the U.S., and how this has spawned […]

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