If you are starting a new brand of wine, whether you’re in a historic wine region or one of the many newer up-and-coming areas, it means that you’re becoming part of a long tradition of the craft of winemaking. With wine drinkers always on the hunt for the next great sip, anyone has a chance of becoming successful with such a venture. You want to make sure that should your wine become a breakout sensation, you don’t run into problems with people trying to infringe upon your name or your brand identity – not only could you lose business directly, but your winery’s reputation may suffer as well. Trademarking the name of your wine and distinctive elements of your wine’s identity – like the label – can help protect you and your business from such negative events. Here’s how you can do it.
1) First, pick the name of your wine.
Your initial step is to decide what you’d like to call your wine. Be creative – the United States Trademark & Patent Office gives the highest preference to the most unique types of names, especially those consisting of new, “coined” words or phrases. If the creative juices aren’t quite flowing in terms of making up words, you can also choose a word or name completely unrelated to wine. Those also have a high chance of success with the USPTO. Names that are “suggestive” or “descriptive” of wine itself – whether smell, taste, look, and so on – may still be accepted by the USPTO, but the chances are lower.
Where you really want to be careful when naming your wine is getting too close to regional names. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms actually regulates what’s required to appear on labels for wine bottles, as well as what else is allowed to appear. Since all wines need to display the name of the region from which they came on the label, it would be confusing to allow wineries to choose names that sound like or are suggestive of those regions – you want to steer clear of those.
Once you’ve chosen a name, you should then research it to make sure it’s not already in use somewhere. You should search through the USPTO database, as well as through lists of wineries. If you choose a name that someone’s already been using – whether registered or not – they’ll most likely make a claim against you.
2) Next, retain a trademark attorney to assist with a formal trademark search and filing.
The research stage is an ideal time to contact a trademark attorney – they have the expertise necessary to reduce the chances that anything gets overlooked in the search process, which prevents you from having to worry about any rights to use the name you chose later on. Going into business with one name, only having to change it and start over with another, can be very hard on a business and a brand. It’s best to know up front that your winery name is one that you can keep using, which a trademark attorney can help you with.
In addition to the expertise to know just how to search for any potential conflicts, a trademark attorney has more powerful search tools than those available to the public. Remember, a “free” on-line search engine is almost never a sufficient measure on its own to research a potential trademark.
3) Finally, file the trademark application for your wine name or logo (or both).
Once you and your trademark attorney have determined that the name you’ve chosen for your wine has a good chance of being accepted by the USPTO, your next step is to complete and file the trademark application itself. This is where you’ll indicate exactly how the name of your wine – your trademark – will be used. Are you just looking to reserve the use of the name? Will it appear in a stylized way at the winery or on the label? Will you have a logo or distinctive design on your label that you’d like to keep associated with your wine? These are just a few of the considerations to think about as you’re filling out your application (and may lead to needing to file multiple application).
After your trademark application is filed, it will go to an examining attorney at the USPTO for another review process. This examining process ensures that your trademark won’t violate any already in existence, and is an extremely detailed search conducted by a USPTO attorney. Upon submission, you can expect to wait eight months for your application to be completely reviewed and approved for registration. From here, you can use your mark and sell your wine with confidence that you have the exclusive rights to the name. Keep in mind that you’ll need to stay aware of any competing wineries or merchants that may try to infringe on your name or brand, and bring action against them through the court system – the USPTO will not police your trademark for you.