A battle over the mark "NATTY" is brewing between Anheuser-Busch and a new brewery based in Greensboro, North Carolina. This battle of the beers started when two brewers opened a pub in Greensboro and wanted to incorporate the name of Nathanael Greene, the Revolutionary War general for whom Greensboro is named, into their mark. According to the brewers, NATTY GREENE'S rolled off the tongue much better than "NATHANAEL GREEN'S" did. The problem is that Anheuser-Busch has been using "NATTY" in connection with its line of beer since 1998. (If you're interested in reading more about the NATTY brand, Bill discussed the protection of NATTY by Anheuser-Busch last week.)
As would be expected, Anheuser-Busch opposed the brewers' application for registration of NATTY GREENE'S for beer, claiming priority and a likelihood of confusion as a result of its long and extensive use of "NATTY" for beer. During the process of applying for a trademark in the U.S., once a trademark application has been examined by the Trademark Office, the application is passed for publication and is open for a period of opposition. Any person who believes that he or she would be damaged by registration of a trademark may file an opposition to the proposed registration. Likelihood of confusion is one ground for opposition. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) will consider whether use of NATTY GREENE by the brewers will cause a likelihood that consumers will associate NATTY GREENE products with Anheuser-Busch, and think that the NATTY GREENE products are produced by, endorsed by, or otherwise affiliated with the Anheuser-Busch. If so, the TTAB will refuse registration of the mark NATTY GREENE by the brewers. In its notice of opposition, Anheuser-Busch also alleged that Natty Greene's trademark would cause confusion and likely cause the "dilution of the distinctive quality" of Anheuser-Busch's trademarks.
Refusal of registration would likely mean that Natty Greene would have to change its mark and all its branding. This process can be quite cumbersome and expensive, which is why it's always a good idea to consult a trademark attorney when selecting a mark for your business. A trademark search could also save you the expense of re-branding if another party with stronger rights accuses you of infringement.
For those of you interested in learning more about Natty Greene's, check this out:
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