(Bloomberg) -- For a 25-year-old coffee brand in Maine, the cannabis compound CBD is more than just a trendy ingredient. It’s a trademark.
Mary Allen Lindemann and Alan Spear opened Coffee By Design in 1994, selling coffee and espresso in an area of Portland once known as a “porn district.” Within a few years, the coffee shop had a nickname among locals: “CBD.” For awhile, that wasn’t an issue. The company opened four other locations in Maine and branched out into wholesale, selling its beans as far away as Tokyo.
Things started to change when Maine legalized marijuana in 2016, part of the broader loosening of cannabis regulations around the U.S. This brought attention to a little-known compound called cannabidiol, or CBD—a component of pot and hemp that doesn’t get you high but can treat ailments like anxiety and insomnia, according to proponents.
Soon, Portland coffee shops began selling CBD, charging customers to add a few drops to their java. Signs appeared around town offering “CBD coffee” and customers started asking Coffee By Design if they had the other CBD.
One customer was flummoxed when a competing coffee shop told him CBD coffee included a $5 surcharge, leaving him to wonder if Coffee By Design was jacking up its prices, according to Lindemann. Some of the confusion was understandable: In 2017, the company had rebranded, shortening its name in logos to just CBD.
But for Spear and Lindemann, the confusion is more than just a minor inconvenience. A few years earlier, they had trademarked the company name. They say the filing prevents others, nationwide, from using the term CBD for coffee products and coffee shops. That’s happening more and more these days with the buzz surrounding cannabis.
“We’re well within our rights to prevent others from using the term CBD as a trademark in relation to coffee and coffee shops,” Spear says. “As a responsible trademark owner, we have an obligation.”
The Coffee By Design owners say they’re fine with competitors offering “CBD extract,” but argue that putting “CBD coffee” on the menu infringes on their trademark. For the last several months, the company's founders have been discussing their options with their attorney while “thinking about how to best protect our trademark while staying true to our values of collaboration and community.”
They were getting ready to make phone calls to local coffee shops selling cannabidiol when state regulators in Maine ordered the products removed from shelves because of the murky legal situations surrounding CBD’s use as a food additive.
That could be temporary reprieve, and Spear and Lindemann are still focusing on protecting their CBD trademark in the New England market, where the brand is best known. The legalization of weed had nothing to do with their branding change, which was developed to give the company a more modern look, according to the founders. They say they’re not looking to sell the brand, or the trademark, to capitalize on all the interest surrounding cannabis.
“All we hope to do is prevent consumers from being confused about what they are purchasing and who they are purchasing it from,” Spear says.
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