• Breweries and Intellectual Property: Putting the “IP” in IPA
  • December 22, 2016 | Author: Christen C. Church
  • Law Firm: Gentry Locke, LLP - Roanoke Office
  • So, what do your brewery, Facebook, and Google have in common? With Google and Facebook’s progressive offices there is probably some connection involving beer pong, but beyond that, intellectual property (“IP”) is a significant asset of each.

    Brewery owners will spend countless hours and dollars investing in producing the best beer and marketing to build brand recognition, but will overlook protecting that intellectual property they spent so much effort building. Admittedly, Facebook and Google [and Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors] are huge companies with in-house attorneys and legal budgets devoted to obtaining, licensing, and policing their intellectual property, which just doesn’t make sense for most other companies. So what can and should breweries, particularly smaller craft breweries, do?

    First, value your company. Not necessarily from a balance sheet perspective, but identify the core, essential elements of your “brand.” When you think of your company and your products, and more importantly when the public thinks of your company and your products, what comes to mind? There’s no need to conduct a scientific poll or in-depth market study (although those are nice), just start looking for opportunities to have casual conversations to raise your awareness of your customers’ and the public’s perception of your company and your products.

    Identifying your brand. In other words, you’ve spent those hours developing recipes and designing the space. What are the fruits of your labor, the elements that leave a lasting impression with your customers? Is it a certain beer that can’t be found anywhere else? A seasonal offering that folks mark on their calendars each year? A taproom and atmosphere that keeps people coming back? A catchy slogan or an image that is immediately recognized as being connected to you and your products? And if you haven’t yet opened your doors or produced your first beer, consider what you want the answers to these questions to be.

    This process will help you identify your current brand. It may also help you recognize something about your company that you have undervalued... and it may help identify some areas where you need to invest more time and money.

    Protect it! Now that you have an idea (and probably a list) of what is most valuable to your company and specifically your “brand,” what can you do to protect what you own? This is when a consult with an attorney can be most valuable. An attorney familiar with IP can help you analyze your intellectual property and help you perform a cost/benefit analysis on ways to protect your IP. Should you file trademark applications? What is the difference between a trademark and copyright? What information should be protected as confidential? These are all common questions discussed during an initial meeting with an IP attorney.

    Whether you are investing in your company with the hopes to one day turn it over to a son or daughter or with an eye toward selling in the near future, taking an inventory of your IP and identifying ways to protect and increase the value of your IP is well worth the time and effort.