Are Beer Taps Trademarks?

Anything that lets customers know the source of a product functions as a trademark, including beer taps at the local bar or pub.


A fundamental tenet of trademark law is that anything that functions as a source identifier can receive trademark protection. In other words, any word, logo, tagline or more that lets consumers know who made a product or offers a service is a trademark that can receive trademark protection.


Beer Taps as Source Identifiers


Brewers create distinctive beer taps to distinguish themselves from competitors at the bar. Beer taps are the best way for brewers to market their beer and brand in a competitive “trademark battleground,” where the competition’s tap is literally inches (sometimes less) away. Catching the attention of a loyal customer or attracting a new one is the primary purpose of beer taps.


Beer taps come in many different shapes, colors, sizes, designs and more. The classic Guinness beer tap is usually black and has the general shape of a beer glass with a white top symbolizing the “head” of a proper pour of Guinness. Since Guinness has been around since 1759, it stands out by being the same and such a well known brand for hundreds of years.


On the flip side, a young brewery may need to do more to standout in the trademark battleground that is the bar or pub. For example, using bright colors, distinctive shapes, and a clever name can help attract new customers unfamiliar with their brand to try something new. A local brewery may incorporate a local term(s), location, or motif that interests the customers around that area to try the beer. For example, Sam Adams worked well in Boston before it became a national success because Sam Adams was from Boston and a prominent figure in at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and Boston is filled with Revolutionary War history.


Beer taps at the bar are specifically designed to let consumers know the brewer of a beer by using logos, words, colors, shapes and more. Therefore they are source identifiers capable of receiving trademark protection.


Beer Taps and Trademark Registration


Because beer taps are source identifiers, they receive common law trademark rights and are eligible for trademark registration. Since beer taps are in such a competitive trademark battleground, it is important for brewers to apply for and receive a trademark registration to enjoy the added benefits registration provides over merely common law rights.


One of the tricky things when filing a trademark application for a beer tap is submitting a drawing of the tap. A picture of a tap in a bar will work as a trademark specimen showing the tap “in commerce.” However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) prefers an actual drawing of the tap during the application process to show in its online databases and the trademark registration certificate.


Generally, beer taps need to show they have acquired distinctiveness, as set out in Section 2(f) of the Lanham Act. Acquired distinctiveness means that when a relevant consumer sees a trademark in commerce, they are likely to know it is a trademark. In other words, when a beer drinker sees the tap at the bar, they know who produces the beer that will come out of that tap.


Trademark Registration Certificate for the Shock Top beer tap. Notice the drawing of the beer tap.


Do you have a distinctive beer tap you want to protect from competitors infringing on, especially in the trademark battleground at the bars and pubs? Contact us today for a Free Trademark Consultation and one of our attorneys will contact you within twenty four hours.

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