When Candace Moon decided to start her own law practice, she knew exactly what type of clients she wanted to attract. She was a law school grad who’d quickly become disillusioned by the field. So instead of getting a job she hated at a law firm, she bartended at Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park. It was those late nights behind a bar that eventually inspired a beer-shaped lightbulb to go off in her head.
“I just kind of had this idea,” she said. “I know all these brewers. I don’t know any beer lawyers. I’ll be a beer lawyer, and specifically craft beer because that was the industry I was familiar with.”
When she opened up shop in 2009, she started calling herself “the craft beer attorney.” She picked up her first client after giving a talk about trademarks at a California Craft Brewers Association meeting and things snowballed from there, dovetailing with the craft beer industry’s boom.
“I thought what I was doing was fairly – I don’t want to say revolutionary because that’s a strong word –but certainly a bit unique,” she said. “But to some extent I had no idea my practice would grow the way that it has. I literally thought I would work out of my house – that it would just be me and I’d help a bunch of small breweries. … I had no idea that craft was going to grow the way it has.”
Moon now employs a small team of women lawyers who provide over 200 craft beer clients help with licensing, trademarking, contracts and other industry-specific business and legal services. She said no one at her firm is getting rich. Their prices reflect what craft brewers are willing or able to pay. But she said she offers affordability because she likes the people who tend to work in the craft beer industry. She said she digs the overall collaborative and relaxed vibe. She and her employees wear jeans and beer T-shirts to work most days, they’re always stocked up on craft beer and beer paraphernalia fills the office.
Helping small craft breweries trademark their names or products is a big chunk of Moon’s business. Green Flash Brewing Company, for example, was one of her earliest clients and the business had been brewing for 10 years before it secured the rights to any of its beer names. Moon said other companies had started using some of Green Flash’s beer names, but things ended up working out, partly because of the relaxed vibe and camaraderie among small brewers. She said the friendly craft beer culture often helps with mediation efforts when conflicts over trademarks come up, and it helps that her firm has assimilated to the culture and is generally less lawyerly than her counterparts who don’t specialize in the industry.
“I really don’t like dealing with other lawyers myself,” she said. “We’re pretty approachable here.”
Things weren’t so smooth, though, when Moon went to file a trademark for her own firm.
About two years ago, she decided it was time to make “craft beer attorney” an official trademark. She filed a request with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, but it was initially rejected for being a descriptive term that she hadn’t earned.
Filing a trademark for a descriptive term isn’t easy. Distinctions like “craft beer attorney” must be gained over time through marketing and advertising. In other words, consumers have to think of Moon when they hear the term “craft beer attorney.”
Moon made the case that she had indeed earned the distinction over the years by successfully making a name for herself in the industry as the “craft beer attorney.” The Trademark Office eventually approved Moon’s request this year, but when the trademark was published as part of the process, 14 law firms filed forms indicating they’d likely be officially opposing the request.
That’s an unusually high number of folks indicating they might be opposed to a trademark, Moon said.
“With my clients with beer names, I think the most I’ve ever gotten is two for one trademark,” she said.
Eleven firms ended up opposing Moon’s trademark request. Glenn Rice, partner with the firm Funkhouser Vegosen Liebman & Dunn Ltd., one of the opposing firms, said the phrase “craft beer attorney” is something other attorneys should be able to use.
“No one should have an exclusive right or a monopoly on it,” Rice said.
Warren Dranit of Spaulding McCullough & Tansil LLP, another firm that filed an opposition, said the term is far too generic to be trademarked by any one person.
“The reason why you’re’ seeing 11 law firms opposing this application is because there are a lot of lawyers out there who think this is a term that is available for all to use in the industry,” Dranit said. “So if you think about it, what the applicant is trying to do is to prevent others from using it. … We need to keep ‘craft beer attorney’ available for everyone to use.”
Moon said she gets why the firms don’t like her attempt to trademark the term, but she said she’s doing it, in part, to help the craft beer industry. She said she thinks it’s the industry’s growing popularity that’s driving the opposition – law firms see dollar signs in the ballooning market.
But she said attorneys who don’t work exclusively in the industry don’t fully understand the minutiae of craft beer. One anecdote she finds herself telling often is about one of her clients, who came to her after paying an attorney to trademark a term that included the word “strong.”
“But the problem is you can’t put that on beer because the feds won’t let you use the word ‘strong’ on an alcohol product,” Moon said. “So now they have a trademark that’s pretty much useless because they can’t put it on beer.”
Moon said she also has a long list of time-proven business advice she gives to her clients who want to open a new brewery without any hitches. One issue that can come up unexpectedly, she said, is when a neighbor or community group protests a proposed beer license. She said none of her clients have come up against a protest because she knows how to prevent those type of problems.
Late last year, Moon and a few other attorneys launched the Craft Beer Attorney Coalition, a nonprofit that hopes to become a network of attorneys who specialize in the industry. The trademark dispute will go through a proceeding soon, and if Moon is successful, she said she’d transfer the “craft beer attorney” trademark to the nonprofit.
“So the idea being that as long as you are a craft beer attorney, you can call yourself a craft beer attorney,” she said.
In other words, she wants to protect the craft beer industry from lawyers seeking to collect from the industry without putting in the legwork to learn about it first.
“The goal is that the lawyer that does personal injury and DUI and criminal and 18 different areas of law can’t call themselves a craft beer attorney so that they can get that one brewery client,” she said.
The trademark proceedings will happen soon. Whatever the outcome, Moon said she’ll keep calling herself a craft beer attorney. She said the situation is ironic and trying, but it’s also given her insight into how her clients with trademark issues must feel.
“I was told this was a very meta situation – the trademark attorney having trademark issues,” she said. “But I’ll sit there and tell my client, ‘Don’t stress, don’t’ worry about it, this is normal.’ And I do mean that and yet now I’m like, ‘I totally see why you’re stressing.’”