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The Wild West of Cannabis Trademarking

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As the cannabis market slowly creeps its way into mainstream media, more growers are “coming out of the closet” by flaunting their grow styles and top-quality strains. With this shift into the spotlight, the issue of trademarking and protecting genetics/intellectual property is becoming quite serious and a focus of many in the industry.

The evolution of strain names is quite fascinating. In the beginning, strains were typically named after their area of origin (think Afghani, Purple Thai, Hindu Kush, etc.).

Over the last couple decades, however, the industry’s buying process has shifted away from picking up an unlabeled bag from your weed-man, in which you were lucky to even know if it was sativa or indica, to walking into a store with dozens of unique strains to choose from.

Many breeders took advantage of this new-found marketing opportunity and began to release genetics with names that would entice potential consumers. Strains such as Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies instantly infatuated people as they wondered, “Does it really taste like Thin Mints?” Strains such as Girl Scout Cookies, Starburst, Zskittlez, (the list goes on and on) also have a nostalgic element for many smokers who fondly remember the good old days of smoking weed in high school and stuffing their faces with the exact munchies these strains are named after.

Cannabis strains have always been named to make you giggle (Alaskan Thunderfuck) or make your mouth water (Liquid Butter OG) but now that cannabis is making its way into the spotlight, bigger issues regarding trademarking have arrived.

On one end, you have the cannabis breeders who, in some cases, have spent over ten years developing and perfecting their strains. With legalization taking hold in the U.S., these breeders are looking to protect their creations and hopefully make some profit off of seed sales. However, issues arise when filing for federal trademarks because the cannabis plant remains federally illegal. It is possible to register a trademark in each state, but that can be an overwhelming amount of paperwork and a rather pointless endeavour. For the trademark to be a Registered Trademark, it still needs to go through federal approval.

This California edible company was sued by Hershey's

This California edible company was sued by Hershey Co. for trademark infringement in 2014. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

On the other end, you have the international businesses who might not want their Registered Trademark associated with cannabis (think Girl Scouts of the USA). Also, as a business, if you own a Registered Trademark it’s imperative that you enforce your trademark or else it can actually become invalid.

An interesting case of trademark infringement recently occurred in the Northwest with the organic farm, TKO Reserve. Gorilla Glue #4, also known as GG4, is an extremely potent, OG-hybrid. Created in 2014, the strain grew in popularity very quickly as growers such as TKO were hitting the “30% Club” (30% THC). It is now one of the most saturated strains on the market.

Many credit Gorilla Glue to Las Vegas breeder, Josey Wales, however, he’s been near impossible to contact since the strain has risen in popularity. With the Gorilla Glue Company unable to track down Josey Wales, they searched online forums for someone they could consider liable. This is when they found TKO Reserve’s Instagram, flooded with mouth-watering images of the Gorilla Glue strain.

TKO Reserve’s lawyer then received a cease and desist letter from the Gorilla Glue Company. In the letter, the Gorilla Glue Company explains “while Mr.Wales is somewhat of a cult figure in the marijuana community, he is difficult to contact because his location is never publically disclosed.” It’s for this reason that the Gorilla Glue Company has dubbed TKO Reserve as “the grower of the ‘Gorilla Glue #4’ strain of marijuana.”

home_gorilla_armTKO Reserve admits no involvement in the breeding or creation of Gorilla Glue. A couple of years ago, TKO Reserve found the cut of GG4 at a California Cannabis Cup and fell in love with growing the potent, humulene-rich strain.

At first, the co-founders of TKO Reserve were shocked and concerned The Gorilla Glue Company would pursue further legal action. However, as they read along they realized the international glue company had a good sense of humor…

“We presume that Mr.Wales and/or TKO Reserve named this particular strain “Gorilla Glue #4” to play off of the GORILLA GLUE brand and to suggest to cannabis consumers that the marijuana is strong and sticky.” They continue to explain that while they “certainly appreciate the pop culture appeal,” they need to ensure the Gorilla Glue trademark is used correctly.

More cases regarding trademarking have been coming to light recently in the cannabis world. In Portland, a dispensary called Stash Cannabis Company is in the middle of a legal battle with 40-year-old tea company, Stash Tea. The tea company says it served Stash Cannabis with two cease and desist letters over the misuse of the STA-08229-4four U.S. registered trademarks that Stash Tea owns covering the “dried plant and tea” category. Stash Tea is seeking an injunctive order, legal costs, and damages that include profits—which Stash Cannabis Co. told Marijuana Business Daily were around $ 3,000 to $ 4,000 a day. However, Stash Cannabis is standing firm and insisting they are different industries. They are beginning conversations and hoping to reach a solution outside of court.

 

International corporations are serious about protecting their trademarks. As the marijuana market continues to move its way into the spotlight, large businesses are not going to tolerate any infringements upon their hard-earned trademarks. But now more than ever, Cannabis breeders and brands are working to be able to protect themselves and their creations just like corporate America has been able to. Cannabis is slowly but surely transitioning from an underground market to the forefront of American consumerism.

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