I will be attending the Ontario Craft Brewers Conference in Toronto today, and I couldn’t be any more excited!

The craft beer industry in Canada is exploding. There’s new brands appearing almost weekly, and consumers have a lot of choices. The crowded market and fact that everyone sells variations of one product makes for some very interesting, and sometimes challenging, trademark issues.

Here are some of the issues that I have encountered working with craft brewers in Canada.

Geographic Marks

The reference to a city or region in a brewery name is a great way to build a loyal local customer base. Unfortunately, geographic names are difficult to protect as trademarks. The theory is that geographic names should be available for anyone in the same region to use, and this would include direct competitors.

This is not to say that you can’t incorporate a geographic reference into your name. You can, so long as its accurate and you combine it with other distinctive words so that the whole name can be exclusively connected with your company and your beer.

Distinctive Logos and Label Designs

The designs that appear on craft beer cans are works of art, and works of art can be protected using both copyright and trademark law.

The first step to using copyright law to protect a design is ensuring that you have documented your ownership of the artwork.  The artist or creator of a design is the first owner of the copyright. If you created the design, you own the copyright. If someone else created the design for you, in some cases, they are the first owner of the copyright. A simple written assignment can transfer the ownership of the copyright to ensure your future use on product labels. The copyright in the design and the assignment of the copyright can both be registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

The design may also be registered as a trademark for beer, beer-related merchandise, and even brewery services. Registrable trademarks include artwork, words, and even distinctive color placements on product labels.

Multiple Marks

A product label can have more than one trademark, and it is fairly common on craft beer to have the main brewery mark as well as a secondary mark to distinguish the style of beer. These secondary trademarks can and should be protected the same as a house mark, meaning you can label them with the appropriate trademark symbols and they can be registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

What interesting trademark issues have you encountered in your brewery business?

I’d love to discuss these issues with you. I’ll be in the vendor’s marketplace at the Ontario Craft Brewers Conference all day today. Stop by our booth and say hello!