Last month, NPR explored America’s ever-growing collection of craft breweries and discovered that the industry’s explosive growth has created a big problem: Brewers are running out of names for their businesses and their beers. The situation is bleak:
Virtually every large city, notable landscape feature, creature and weather pattern of North America — as well as myriad other words, concepts and images — has been snapped up and trademarked as the name of either a brewery or a beer. For newcomers to the increasingly crowded industry of more than 3,000 breweries, finding names for beers, or even themselves, is increasingly hard to do without risking a legal fight.
A frequently recurring issue … is different breweries thinking they’ve coined the same hopcentric puns and catchphrases for their beers. A quick Google search reveals multiple beers named “Hopscotch,” and at least three India Pale Ales with the name “Bitter End.”
With 3,000 breweries, some estimates say there are at least 30,000 different craft beers available right now, too. Of course, there’s bound to be overlap with the names. And as a result of all these similarities, trademark disputes have actually become quite common — and things seem to only be getting more complicated for brewers who just want to call their beers something, anything. In fact, a story published this week in the Coloradoan makes it clear just how esoteric the entire situation has become.
Take the case of Colorado’s Zwei Brüder Brewing, the owners of which received a cease-and-desist from Chicago’s Two Brothers Brewing Company. At issue: “Zwei Brüder” means “Two Brothers,” so the former was in violation of a section of U.S. trademark law called the doctrine of foreign equivalents, which stipulates the same name can’t be used for the same product, even if the name in question appears in different languages. (Zwei Brüder is now just Zwei Brewing.)
Then there is the unique case of hipster: At least 45 breweries use the word, in some way, in their beer names. But Colorado’s Black Bottle Brewery is the proper owner of the “hipster” trademark as it applies to beer. So now the owner, Sean Nook, has to figure out a way to let all these other breweries — including the very popular Evil Twin Brewing — know that he technically owns this name, and hopefully there’s an amicable way to settle it all.
Really, it just sounds like the process of coming up with a witty new name for a beer has become super-boring. Here’s how many places do it:
Come up with a number of names, run a Google search to see which ones are taken, then run a search on a beer site such as ratebeer.com, then visit the USPTO’s website database of existing trademarks and then, to be really safe, go through a third party or legal counsel for reports on the name’s existence.
In the case of Left Hand Brewing, which was trying to come up with a name for a new beer it plans to release this year, they went through more than 400 different options before landing on something that worked. The most appropriate name for a new beer these days might be Red Tape Ale. And yet, that one’s already taken, too.