Branding your Brew: Trademark Protection in the Craft Beer Business

Written By: Stephanie Williams (IP Lawyer)

Canada is home to over 1,100 craft breweries, with many of these breweries having opened in 2015 or later. Today, many craft breweries are responding to market pressures by offering other types of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (e.g., hard seltzer drinks and mocktails), in addition to craft beer.

Given this competitive market, breweries must adopt unique and distinctive branding to stand out from competitors and attract consumers. A look at the shelves in your local beer or liquor store will show the creative branding strategies used by craft breweries today.

But wait! Unique and distinctive branding will only get you half-way there. After all, what good is your creative branding if the rights to your brand elements are not exclusively yours? Trademark registration will get you the rest of the way, providing exclusive and enforceable rights throughout Canada for brand elements that are registered as trademarks.

Don’t I already use trademarks?

Trademarks act as source identifiers and can take many forms. Your brewery is likely already making use of at least one type of trademark.  Unregistered trademarks acquire limited common law rights through use of the mark.

The most common types of registered trademarks are word marks (e.g., brand names) and design marks (e.g., logos). Less commonly types of registered trademarks include colours, tastes,  smells, and other types of non-traditional marks.

Why should I register my trademarks?

There are many benefits to registering your trademarks in Canada:

  • A registered trademark is presumed to be a valid trademark.
  • A registered trademark gives the owner the right to exclusive use of the mark in Canada.
  • A registered trademark will block registration of later-filed confusingly similar marks. 
  • A registered trademark discourages others from using your trademark without your permission.
  • A registered trademark grants the owner more rights in the mark and more routes to enforce the trademark as compared to a common law trademark.
  • A registered trademark protects the value of the mark.
  • Registered trademarks are valuable business assets in the event of a merger or acquisition.
  • Trademark registration is often required to access brand enforcement resources on many online platforms.
  • The costs of trademark registration are minimal in comparison to costs of enforcing or defending an unregistered mark.

Which trademarks should I register?

Generally, if your brewery is already in business, your top priority for trademark registration is likely your house brand in the form of a word mark and/or logo. Your next highest priority is likely the names and/or logos of your top-selling products or product lines. However, priorities may differ from brewery to brewery, depending on the specific offerings and business goals.

What is searching and why should I care?

If you are in the process of establishing a brewery, brewing new beers, or developing new products or product lines, you should consider the benefits of trademark registrability searching before you commit to a brand or product name(s).

The goal of registrability searching is to identify any obvious obstacles to trademark registration, such as similar marks already registered or in use. Knowing whether your desired brand or brand element is available will help avoid a costly re-brand, or at least allow you to make informed decisions on the risks of pursuing a specific brand or brand element. To the extent possible, a trademark registrability search should be conducted before using or applying for a trademark.

Is my registered trademark protected outside of Canada?

Trademark registration offers national protection. In other words, a Canadian trademark registration protects your mark in Canada only. If you are looking to sell your products internationally, it is important to verify that your trademarks are available in other jurisdictions where you plan to sell (through registrability searching) and to register your trademarks in those jurisdictions.

Now what?

In today’s competitive craft beer market, the importance of creative branding and protecting that branding through trademark registration is increasingly important. We recommend engaging a trademark agent to get to know your business and advise on a trademark strategy best suited to your brewery and your business goals.

If you want to discuss trademarks for your brewery of if you have any questions about securing your brewery-related trademarks, do not hesitate to contact one of our experts today!