September 04, 2018

Building Brands - LÄRABAR

by Stites & Harbison, PLLC

Trademarks are everywhere! From the Delta® faucet you use every day, to your favorite Starbucks® treat, and even your favorite G2® ink pen at work (I mean – is there any other acceptable pen?!). Everyone encounters hundreds, if not thousands, of trademarks each and every day! In a boiled down sense, trademarks are just another way of referring to brands. We all have brands that we know and love, but have you ever stopped to think about how those brands came to be?

One of my favorite new podcasts (which is not new, just new to me) is How I Built This®, hosted by Guy Raz and produced by National Public Radio (NPR). The weekly podcast is all about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built. Since 2016, Guy Raz has had the pleasure of interviewing some big names, such as Mark Cuban, Kendra Scott, Michael Dell, Steven Madden, and L.A. Reid, and has told the stories of how some of Americas' favorite brands came to be, including Spanx®, Instagram®, Southwest Airlines®, and Starbucks®.

During my binge-listening of the podcast, a consistent theme has emerged: trademarks can really make or break a business and the "trademarkability" of certain words or phrases are how strong brands are built.

For example, I recently listened to the How I Built This® episode featuring Lara Merriken, the creator of LÄRABAR, which Merriken herself describes as a portable and convenient energy bar made of fruit, nuts, and spices, just pure simple real foods that somehow taste indulgent like you shouldn't be eating them. Nowadays, you can find these healthy and yummy LÄRABARs at almost any grocery or convenience store. However, it's crazy to think that LÄRABARs almost weren't LÄRABARs.

As it turns out, Merriken originally planned to name her bars MANABAR because "mana" refers to your vital energy or your chi. However, right before the product launch in 2002, Merriken's trademark attorney found a problem. There was already a MANNA BREAD trademark registration and, due to both products being in the food industry, Merriken's attorney thought there may be a likelihood of confusion and recommended that Merriken change the name.

As Merriken was coming to terms with the fact that she had to completely scratch her original idea, a friend said "you know, why you don't call them Larabars? You make them, they are your bars, and it sounds good and has a ring." Merriken originally thought no way. However, after thinking about it for a couple of weeks, Merriken finally thought "LARABAR . . . I guess that could work". And boy did it work. By year two, LÄRABAR had made between $5-7 Million and big companies were taking notice. Merriken was approached numerous times by companies who wanted to acquire LÄRABAR. Then, in 2007, when Merriken was 39, LÄRABAR was finally sold to General Mills (for an estimated $56+ Million).

Merriken's story is just one of many that shows how naming is one of the hardest and most important things when starting a business and/or launching a product. Working with a trademark attorney to vet a name on the front end can save a lot of money and heartbreak on the back end. If an entrepreneur selects a name that is already in use, common, or descriptive, they run the risk of having their trademark application(s) denied, litigation, having to rebrand, and/or perhaps being limited to a very small geographic scope (which most certainly would affect growth potential). Therefore, to all the existing companies and budding entrepreneurs out there, give us a call and let us help ensure the brands you built are built on a strong foundation.

Oh and if you were wondering where the umlaut (Ä) in LÄRABAR comes from or what it means, well, it doesn't mean anything at all. Merriken just thought it looked pretty cool!