Know trademark boundaries and keep your labels out of hot water

There's a lot to consider when a company starts pondering how to make a label that respects legal boundaries and makes a distinctive impression on consumers without stealing ideas from others, either intentionally or not. A brand of Lagunitas beer has been forced to make a labeling change for such a reason, as the Press Democrat said.

The specific trademark violation centers on the use of the number "420" as a code for marijuana users. Lagunitas Brewing Company had used the term to honor the gang of smokers who supposedly originally came up with it for a special ale dispensed every April 20th.

However, Sweetwater Brewing Company in Georgia already has trademark on a certain "420 Extra Pale Ale," and it's far from the only active brand to use this term. The Press Democrat featured a quote from The Brewer's Association's Paul Gatza in response to the number of trademark claims in the brewery business.

"Some people are still creative, but there are only so many great names out there," he remarked. "It's really hard to name a beer, or a brewery for that matter."

Lagunitas founder Tony Magee agreed to stop using "420" in this manner, though not before expressing public frustration over the issue on Twitter.

What's one way to avoid such conflicts when it comes to beer and wine labels? Employ a color label printer in-house, so that the designs chosen can be customized, verified and changed (if needed) without contacting an outside source. This can help keep the image of the company clean in the public eye and prevent litigation from bogging down production.

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