Business is business, and the law is the law. Sometimes the combination of these two are unavoidable, even necessary, such as when it comes to business entity formation, contracts, licensing, permits, and the list goes on. In today’s electronic and technology-driven economy, intangible or intellectual property is becoming even more valuable than ever. When it comes to businesses, a lot of this comes down to their brand, their name, their slogans, which often use trademark protection to solidify and help protect these intangibles.
Trademarks as a system, were fundamentally designed to help avoid consumer confusion. That is ultimately the purpose. Trademark rights and protections are designed to prevent other businesses from coming up with products that use other business’ names, phrases, and sometimes even look and feel, sound, or color, which can cause consumers to buy something they thought was made by someone else because they were confused. Imagine a world without trademark protection. You’d probably never know for sure if those shoes with the Swoosh on them were actually made by Nike or not!
In an interesting local trademark story, a while back, Longmont-based craft beermaker, Left Hand Brewing Company, tried to register the trademark for the word “Nitro” as it relates to beer, after it came out with its Milk Stout Nitro beer. This is not the first time we have talked about craft brewery trademark issues, and it likely won’t be the last. Craft brewery trademark disputes are becoming more and more common.
In this case, the company wanted to use the word Nitro to distinguish its nitrogenated beers. It may seem like a harmless thing to do, but boy did it bring the company a lot of trouble. Other companies took action when they saw Left Hand trying to trademark the word, maybe you’ve heard of some of them, they include the makers of Budweiser, Samuel Adams, and Guinness!
Left Hand claimed it was doing it to prevent a bigger beermaker from ultimately registering the trademark, but due to the legal action from other brewers and the upset from the craft beer community over Left Hand’s actions, the company ultimately withdrew its efforts. Craft beerdrinkers were upset that Left Hand was trying to essentially “own” the word Nitro as it relates to beer. Other brewers use nitrogen in their products too, and being such a clear choice for a descriptive word, it only makes sense to use it to differentiate it from traditionally carbonated products.
Let this be a lesson. Whenever your business is thinking about asserting intellectual property rights or trademarks over something, it is important to think of it not only as a legal decision but a business decision as well. Businesses must think about how these actions will impact their competitors and how they might respond. Additionally, the way existing and potential consumers of your business’ products may respond to the news is critical to consider too.
Even if you may have a valid legal claim to something, it may not always be the best business decision to pursue it to the fullest. Cost-benefit analysis is key to situations like this, and it is clearly a good idea to consider both the business and legal ramifications of the different courses of action available to you. Branding is about more than logos, names, trademarks, etc. It is about the image your portray as a company, and a growing component of that is how litigious the company is, especially if it can be perceived as an “unfair” or “unnecessary” use of the legal system.
If your business needs help regarding a trademark, other intellectual property, or other business legal needs, do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney, Elizabeth Lewis, at 720-258-6647 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, there has been a greater push to allow grocery stores and other chains like Target to be able to sell liquor, wine, and full-strength beer at all of their locations. Currently, Colorado law only permits one liquor license per business for the entire state, which means that only one location of a chain of stores is able to sell liquor, wine, and full-strength beer. Other locations are limited to only being able to sell 3.2% beer and wine coolers. Now, supporters of this change are working to get the necessary signatures to take the measure to voters directly, rather than rely on the legislature to make the changes.
The possibility of change brings up opposing concerns from different groups around Colorado. Primarily, large supermarkets and other grocery chains would like to be able to provide their customers with a one-stop-shopping experience at all of their locations, to make shopping for groceries and alcohol more convenient for shoppers. However, due to the current laws, there are currently hundreds of locally owned and operated liquor stores peppered throughout the state to meet consumers’ demand. These small business owners are facing a potentially huge loss of business if these changes take place. They are worried that they will have to cut employees and potentially shut down altogether if they are competing with bigger grocers.
With Colorado being a hub for craft beer brewers, this too could present a difficult issue for them as well. Craft brewers may find it more difficult to get their products on the shelves of larger retailers and with potentially fewer, smaller liquor stores, which could hurt their businesses as well. At the same time, smaller liquor stores might be able to try leveraging their craft beer selection and expertise to keep consumers coming to them for their beer needs, instead of picking up something at the bigger grocery stores.
Some say that it is the local nature of liquor stores and breweries, which were influenced at least in part by the current laws, that encouraged Colorado’s independent craft beer culture. They don’t want to see that culture change and want to keep the jobs and revenue here in Colorado and going to Colorado businesses, instead of larger regional and national chains.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how this issue continues to develop.
If you have questions about legal matters for your business, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, PC, home of your Denver Business Attorney, Elizabeth Lewis, at 720-258-6647 or email her at email@example.com.