In April, news broke that two iconic alcohol brands were joining forces to create a remarkable new beer: Jim Beam Budweiser Copper Lager. Fruit of the joint labor is now available for consumption:

The unique combination doesn’t appear destined to fall flat, as in the early days since launch, it seems to be attracting even self-professed “craft beer snobs,” which is probably the point for Bud.

When iconic brands come together in a co-branding arrangement, it’s interesting to note visual manifestations of the joint trademark use guidelines, a peek into who’s steering the Clydesdales.

Not surprisingly, the reigns of the Clydesdales appear most closely held by Budweiser, as the Copper Lager is beer, not whiskey, and BUDWEISER is the largest wording on the packaging.

That said, the Jim Beam brand name and logo does adorn the six pack carton’s front face with top line prominence, suggesting the brand power it brings to the party – liquid version of Intel Inside?

Figuratively though, not literally, as the Copper Lager isn’t a boilermaker beer cocktail, instead the Jim Beam name and logo indicates aging of the lager on genuine Jim Beam bourbon barrel staves.

One of the things the packaging does well, from a trademark perspective, is keeping the visual identities of the brands separate and distinct, as they appear together in this joint branding effort.

It’s really not a good idea, from a trademark perspective, to mix and blend the combined brands into a single new visual identity, as doing so raises questions of ownership and how to untangle.

So, the packaging does a nice job of keeping each sides trademark elements physically separable while communicating why Budweiser invited Jim Beam to team up for this Copper Lager party.

The trademark filings tell stories too. The only filings currently on the USPTO database that contain the terms Copper and Lager in a mark are owned by Budweiser parent, Anheuser-Busch.

So, Anheuser-Busch views the Copper Lager name to be part of the Budweiser Copper Lager and Budweiser Reserve Copper Lager trademarks, but it disclaims exclusive rights in Copper Lager.

What we don’t know (yet) from the disclaimers, is whether Copper Lager is descriptive (capable of being owned as a trademark element), or generic (you know, meaning zero trademark rights).

If Copper Lager is not a category of beer (i.e., generic and incapable of trademark status), and instead descriptive, since this isn’t Anheuser-Busch’s first such rodeo: acquired distinctiveness?

Either way, this joint effort does appear to be Jim Beam’s first rodeo when it comes to beer, as evidenced by the intent-to-use Jim Beam trademark application it filed in April 2018 for beer.

Thankfully these brand owners are sophisticated enough not to combine Jim Beam and Budweiser into a single trademark filing, sadly I’ve seen commingling before, and it isn’t much fun to unwind.

What do you think, is this joint effort a remarkable one? Is it likely to last, stand the test of time?

There is at least one more 2018 Rapala billboard out there, just netted this one over the weekend:

Rapala’s clever Minnowsotan billboard inspired me to cast a few lines about the law concerning trademark disclaimers, as they often reel in some great questions from branding professionals.

Tim did a helpful post on trademark disclaimers, guiding why the USPTO requires them, their legal implications, and encouraging brand owners to properly resist them when they are unwarranted.

Let’s suppose Rapala sought to register Minnowsotan as a trademark for fishing lures. Putting aside wondering whether this little fish might ever attack, Rapala should lose no sleep wondering whether it would be required to disclaim “minnow” from the would-be Minnowsota trademark. No.

While it is true that “minnow” is an element of Minnowsotan, and there should be little debate that “minnow” is either descriptive or generic for a fishing lure depicting a minnow, a disclaimer is not required under the law by the USPTO when the applied-for mark is unitary (TMEP 1213.05):

“The test for unitariness inquires whether the elements of a mark are so integrated or merged together that they cannot be regarded as separable.”

“A unitary mark has certain observable characteristics. Specifically, its elements are inseparable. In a unitary mark, these observable characteristics must combine to show that the mark has a distinct meaning of its own independent of the meaning of its constituent elements. In other words, a unitary mark must create a single and distinct commercial impression.”

Using Minnowsotan as a trademark school hypothetical, it would be a pretty clear example of unitariness — with no need for a disclaimer, but what about Minnow Spoon for fishing lures?

In other words, is Minnow Spoon unitary for a fishing lure that depicts a minnow on a spoon lure?

Perhaps a cloudier answer than for Minnowsota, but usually two-word marks without compression, telescoping, or hyphenation, will require disclaimers of any descriptive or generic wording.

As it turns out, Minnow Spoon once adorned the Supplemental Register, as a merely descriptive composite mark, only capable of being distinctive, with no disclaimer of the generic “spoon” word.

Reading between the lily pad leaves, it appears the USPTO twice has considered Rapala’s Minnow Spoon to be unitary, as it allowed Rapala to federally-register the two-word mark on the Principal Register too, without a disclaimer of the obviously generic second term “spoon” for fishing lures.

Yet, that consistent disclaimer treatment appears inconsistent with the USPTO’s previous disclaimer requirement for “spoon” with the four-word Rapala Weedless Minnow Spoon mark.

Without getting too tangled up in the weeds at the USPTO, while generic matter must be disclaimed from marks registered on the Supplemental Register and the Principal Register (even under a showing of acquired distinctiveness, as was the case with Minnow Spoon), a disclaimer should not be required by the USPTO, if the composite mark is unitary.

Given that guidance, what would you expect with the “Original Finnish Minnow” mark? Well, that one was treated as not unitary, it appears, since a disclaimer of “minnow” was required. And, the same is true for Minnow Chaser and Clackin’ Minnow, as each one had “minnow” disclaimed.

The crazy thing about the “minnow” disclaimer for Clackin’ Minnow is that it was a Supplemental Registration, so the disclaimer should mean that “minnow” actually is generic for fishing lures.

A school of minnows in trademark class might be left thinking that both of the terms “minnow” and “spoon” are generic for lures, highlighting the importance of resisting them when appropriate.

A couple of days ago, I promised to try and make the case for why the State of Minnesota ought to hire an experienced trademark attorney.

OK, so I’m a day late, but you can decide if I’m a dollar short too. By the way, it was the federal trademark registration record for the below mark that got me thinking about the need:

As it turns out, the State of Minnesota uses the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office to register various trademarks owned by various Minnesota State entities, including the Minnesota State Agricultural Society, owner of the federal service mark registration for the above MINNESOTA STATE FAIR service mark.

One little problem with the federally-registered mark. The prosecution history for the registration discloses that the assigned Examining Attorney at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) required a disclaimer of the descriptive wording "Minnesota State Fair":

Applicant must disclaim the descriptive wording “MINNESOTA STATE FAIR” apart from the mark as shown because it merely describes the feature of the identified services. Trademark Act Section 6, 15 U.S.C. §1056; TMEP §§1213 and 1213.03(a).

The Office can require an applicant to disclaim exclusive rights to an unregistrable part of a mark, rather than refuse registration of the entire mark. Trademark Act Section 6(a), 15 U.S.C. §1056(a). Under Trademark Act Section 2(e), 15 U.S.C. §1052(e), the Office can refuse registration of the entire mark where it is determined that the entire mark is merely descriptive, deceptively misdescriptive, or primarily geographically descriptive of the goods. Thus, the Office may require the disclaimer of a portion of a mark which, when used in connection with the goods or services, is merely descriptive, deceptively misdescriptive, primarily geographically descriptive, or otherwise unregistrable (e.g., generic). TMEP §1213.03(a). If an applicant does not comply with a disclaimer requirement, the Office may refuse registration of the entire mark. TMEP §1213.01(b).

A “disclaimer” is thus a written statement that an applicant adds to the application record that states that applicant does not have exclusive rights, separate and apart from the entire mark, to particular wording and/or to a design aspect. The appearance of the applied-for mark does not change.

The computerized printing format for the Office’s Trademark Official Gazette requires a standardized format for a disclaimer. TMEP §1213.08(a)(i). The following is the standard format used by the Office:

No claim is made to the exclusive right to use “MINNESOTA STATE FAIR” apart from the mark as shown.

See In re Owatonna Tool Co., 231 USPQ 493 (Comm’r Pats. 1983).

PTO Examining Attorneys will have a tendency to do that, and the Attorney General’s Office respectfully complied with the well-supported request. What the PTO’s Examining Attorney didn’t volunteer (and they can have a tendency to do that too) — even to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office — is that a registration disclaimer could have been avoided by submitting a declaration claiming acquired distinctiveness in those words, which, according to the application, have been in use in that specific format since at least as early as January 1, 1981. 

Moreover, Wikipedia reports that the Minnesota State Fair has been in existence since 1859 (missing only five years during that entire period of time), so exclusive rights in the words "Minnesota State Fair" easily could have been claimed under Section 2(f) of the Lanham Act, by way of acquired distinctiveness, long before the current stylized use in 1981.

As it currently stands, there are no federally-registered rights in the words "Minnesota State Fair," only the specific graphic depiction and artwork set forth above (without any limitations as to color) is covered by a federal registration, with exclusive rights in the words having been specifically disclaimed.

Had a simple declaration been put in the record during prosecution to support that the words "Minnesota State Fair" have been in "continuous" and "substantially exclusive" use for at least the five years immediately preceeding the claim of acquired distinctiveness, the registration obtained also could carry the benefit of constituting prima facie evidence of the validity and registrant’s exclusive rights in the entire mark, including the words. Moreover, upon incontestability, these federally-registered rights eventually could become conclusive, not just prima facie valid.

So, the point of the story is not to pick on the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Minnesota, whose attorneys have far better things to do than worry about all the many nuances of federal trademark law. Besides, the point is, this kind of thing happens all the time, even in the commercial business world, when trademark registration and prosecution activities are conducted by those who don’t do it day in and day out.