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Beer industry brews many intellectual property disputes

Craft breweries have become a common part of the business landscape in California, and their product names and labels have increasingly become the subject of intellectual property infringement litigation. Their marketing tactics may run afoul of other breweries, but sometimes brewers trigger conflict with other brands. Such is the case right now for Anheuser-Busch, who has been sued by Patagonia. Similarly, the musicians of Guns 'N' Roses have taken legal action against Canarchy over their Oskar Blues Guns 'N' Rosé ale.

The financial costs can be substantial when brewers infringe on copyrights or trademarks. A copyright protects an owner's creative works that have been fixed in a tangible format. Trademarks, on the other hand, are markings used by companies to communicate brand identities to consumers. When a brewery infringes on the intellectual property of another, the infringing company incurs losses related to removing products from sale and redesigning product packaging as well as any applicable legal costs.

An intellectual property attorney familiar with the matter, stated that Smartmouth Brewing's Saturday Morning IPA with Marshmallows released in February 2019 is an example of potential copyright infringement. The beer's label looked substantially similar to packaging for Lucky Charms cereal from General Mills. He explains that in this case, the alleged copyright infringement is easier to prove than trademark infringement as General Mills does not have to show that the two goods are related to prove infringement. Additionally, a plaintiff pursuing statutory damages in court for unauthorized uses of copyrighted material does not have to prove actual harm. Rather, a court would use its discretion to calculate statutory damages ranging from $750 up to $30,000.

A person or company looking to defend their intellectual property or answer an accusation of infringement may gain valuable insights by consulting an intellectual property attorney. A legal evaluation of trademark, patent or copyright ownership would lay the foundation for developing appropriate strategies to resolve a dispute. An attorney would assist in providing a greater understanding of the financial stakes and methods of minimizing costs. For guidance on a specific intellectual property issue, you are welcome to contact the Wang IP Law Group.

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