Sweeping Changes to Alcohol Sales Law in Colorado

For many years, a battle has raged on about Colorado grocers and larger scale retailers being able to sell at multiple locations throughout the state. To head off a potential ballot measure come November, Governor John Hickenlooper has signed into law SB 16-197.

The new law allows for a “phase-in”, where grocers and larger retailers can move from selling the less-popular 3.2 percent beer they can sell now, to selling full-strength beer. The law takes effect in January 2017 and further allows these businesses to sell in up to 20 locations over the next 20 years, whereas current law allows permits only one location per business to sell in the state. More sales in more locations can also mean more revenue for the state, as consumers will presumably have a better selection when doing their grocery shopping, so greater sales will be made at that time. More sales = more taxes.

While there have been opponents and proponents to the bill outside the halls of the Senate, the bill had bipartisan support, partially derived by compromises reached during the final days of this legislative session. Opponents have been voicing concerns over the impact it would have on “mom and pop” liquor stores, and the craft brew industry, and proponents have have assured those smaller shops that they too will benefit.

According to the bill’s enhancements, smaller shops and even the tiny corner drugstore would have the ability to have up to four licenses, and the ability to sell other items, such as fresh food products. Additionally, the bill has provisions that encourage (but don’t require) the buying of Colorado products, which would be managed under the auspices of a designated manager.

Even with this significant change taking place, Your Choice Colorado (an opponent to the legislation) is considering a ballot measure in November so voters can weigh in with their own opinion about what they would like to see on grocer’s shelves. It’s not certain if they’re pursue this measure, but supporters of SB 16-197, such as Keep Colorado Local hope they don’t. “This historic compromise protects local small businesses and Colorado’s unique craft brewing culture while allowing the phase-in of alcohol sales in grocery stores.”, states their Facebook announcement, following the Governor’s signing.

Only time will really tell how this new law impacts small businesses and consumers alike, but for now, it looks like at the very least, shoppers will have more choices when they’re picking ingredients for dinner.

If you need legal help, don’t hesitate to contact me at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.

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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Balancing Trademark Protection and Public Relations

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 elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.