Whether you’ve only discussed the idea over a few pints, or you’re an experienced home brewer ready to share your creations with the world, once you make the commitment to establishing your very own microbrewery, you need to start thinking about trademarking the name of your beer. Registering your beer name as a trademark is important for many reasons, not least owing to the many legal battles over the last several years between breweries. Let’s take a look at how you can trademark your beer name, and why to do it.

Why you should trademark the name of your beer:

As you’ve probably noticed any time you order a beer, there are three main distinguishing factors that you’ll consider in the trademark process: brewery name, beer name, and label design. Each of these will require a separate trademark application, although they can be filed concurrently if you have designs and names chosen at the same time. In the case of beer names (for individual recipes or types of beer), those trademarks can (and should) be filed up to 36 months before your concoctions hit the market.

Craft beers and microbreweries are booming in the United States and abroad. As you might imagine, that means that original, distinctive names are at a higher and higher premium every day. Since you’re in the same field – beer – as any potential competitors or claimants to a name that you’d like to claim for yourself, the risk of confusion between names is higher, and you need to be vigilant about establishing usage and securing legal trademark protection for whatever you decide to call your creations. It’s a scramble to be first, as recent legal battles can attest.

The importance of conducting a proper trademark search for a beer name:

The danger of stepping on a previously established brewery’s toes as far as name and trademark is very real, which is why it’s especially important to conduct thorough research. The government has proven to give very little latitude when determining that brewery or beer names are too similar – handing down rulings that seem stricter in protecting existing trademarks than have been seen in other industries. That means that you really need to be concerned with originality and distinction when you’re coming up with a name, but first and foremost, you need to have access to a comprehensive database of existing names and registered marks.

Despite the preponderance of beer websites and search engine tools available, the best chance you can give yourself of preventing your beer name trademark from being rejected on “likelihood of confusion” grounds is to enlist a trademark attorney. Not only do trademark attorneys have access to more powerful search tools for registered trademarks, but you’ll also be able to hear their professional opinion on your chances of success or failure with your application. This can save you a lot of time and money down the road.

How to select a good trademark for the name of your beer:

The next best thing you can do to give yourself the best chance or trademark success? Coin an original word, term, or phrase for your brewery and beer names. The more fanciful, the better – that way you can be more certain that no one else has already come up with the same, or a similar, name. Unrelated and “arbitrary” terms and names should also work – but are lower down on the ladder of ideal naming conventions for your greatest chance of application success.

The trademark application process for a beer brand:

After you’ve completed an exhaustive search and you’re confident that no one else can make a claim to the beer name you’re filing an application for, it’s time to start filling out the paperwork. Filling out the USPTO trademark application is the next step, and because you’ll likely be filling out more than one application at the same time (as we said above, brewery name, label, and beer name all need separate submissions), it’s critical to avoid errors or confusion. At best, any errors or omissions will cause your application to be delayed for clarification, and at worse, you’ll be rejected outright and forced to begin the process all over again. That means more time lost, and since the beer industry is so competitive, a greater chance of another brewery choosing a similar name. Time is absolutely of the essence.

You can begin brewing and distributing your libations while the trademark process is ongoing – your application will typically stay with the USPTO for review for six to eight months – just be sure to denote your trademarks with the small “TM” letters to establish usage and protection. Once registration is complete, you’ll begin using the circled “R” symbol on your beer labels and packaging to show that you’ve officially and successfully registered your marks.

Once the USPTO examining attorney has satisfactorily determined that you hold a rightful claim to the trademarks you’re applying for, you can consider the application process a success. Your trademarks are now yours to use and, critically, to protect. Do your best to look out for any similar names or breweries – this is where all of those craft beer websites out there can come in handy. As you develop more lines and kinds of beer, each of those will require a new trademark submission as well, following the same process. And with any luck, your brewery will achieve such great success that your fans will be clamoring for more. Cheers!