As your business grows, you need to think about the relevant intellectual property (IP) issues. Here are some that will concern even the most mundane of macro lager drinkers. 

Trade Marks

Every product offered for sale carries a trade mark of some sort.  This may be a name, shape, symbol or a combination of all of the above in a logo.  Every beer brewer, from small micro-brewery to international conglomerate, uses some form of trade mark to sell their beer.

These are displayed on taps, cans, bottles, bottle caps, barrels, beer mats and just about any type of merchandise sold.  The purpose of the trade mark is to distinguish a brewer’s goods from those of a competitor.

Trade marks can be registered or unregistered.  The essential difference is that a registered trade mark better protects the owner where competitors use similar or identical signs which produce certain effects by, for example making it harder for customers to determine whose beer is being bought.

A registered trade mark can cover the UK, EU or USA.  Without a registered trade mark, the brewer can still maintain some elbow room at the bar by claiming Passing Off, which guards against look-a-like products.

Copyright

Most people associate ‘copyright’ with the warning advert that appears in the credits of a DVD.  However, copyright protects much more than just films.  Copyright is an IP right which stops other people copying parts of the original ‘work’.  A ‘work’ can include drawings, sketches and paintings.  It also includes anything written, for example a slogan or statement about a beer or product.

Few brewers realise it, but the artwork appearing on packaging, for example beer cans or bottles, is capable of protection as a copyright work, as is the artwork appearing on tap-labels.  The real advantage of copyright is that it exists automatically the moment something is created, without the need to incur the cost of registration. 

Designs Rights

Design rights are a third type of IP right which is relevant to the brewing community.  There are various kinds of design rights and, like an English and American Pale, each is a slight variant of the other.  Dealing with the basics, design rights protect the shape of a product or, in some instances, the ornamentation appearing on the product.  Like trade marks, design rights can be registered or unregistered.

Design rights are most relevant to brewers when selling their beers in bottles or cans.  It’s easy to think that packaging for beverages is a standard shape and dimension.  However, variations to the shape or fastening mechanism can make the difference between a generic bottle and something which attracts design rights.  Equally, there is a trend to sell craft ales in highly decorative cans, which may also lead to some design rights.

Conclusion

The most important thing for any brewer is the quality and taste of their beer.  However, IP can actually mean more to brewers than Indian Pale.  The key is to recognise the relevant IP rights early on in the progression of the business and to devise a strategy for protecting those rights.