Growing up in Asheville, Rebecca Crandall wanted to be an actress. In her youth, she was in local productions of Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady and Singin’ in the Rain, among others.
“I thought it would be great to sing and dance and act on Broadway,” she says. “But by the time I was in high school, I knew I didn’t have that kind of talent.”
In search of a new career, she turned to some of the same qualities that had informed her work on the stage. “I like to help people, and I like reading and writing, and I didn’t mind an audience,” she says. “That sounds like a lawyer.”
Crandall got her law degree from UNC Chapel Hill and has wound up specializing in trademark law at Asheville’s McGuire, Wood & Bissette Law Firm. That practice brings her into regular contact with Asheville’s booming craft beer and beverage scene, where more than 40 breweries have opened in Buncombe County, part of over 70 such establishments around Western North Carolina.
The law firm is a member of the Asheville Brewers Alliance trade group, which represents breweries and beer-related businesses. Crandall helps people protect their brands and assists startup breweries in navigating the complex legal process of establishing their businesses. Among her clients thus far are Asheville Brewing Co., Archetype Brewing Co. and Urban Orchard Cider Co.
“I always knew that I didn’t want to do criminal law or family law,” Crandall says. “It’s so serious, and I knew it would be hard emotionally and mentally. It wasn’t a good match for me. I wanted to do something creative in the law.”
After earning her law degree, Crandall remained in Raleigh for 10 years, practicing intellectual property law. During that time, she made visits to New Orleans and became fond of Abita Beer’s Amber. “It blew my mind,” she says. “After that, I was hooked.”
Already keeping an eye out for opportunities to return to Asheville, she tracked the city’s progress on its way to becoming the nation’s East Coast craft beer capital. While living in Raleigh, she and her husband, Jason Griffin, made what she calls “pilgrimages” back to Western North Carolina on a regular basis and visited local breweries. The frequency led to solid connections with brewers and brewery owners in town, and in 2015 the couple moved to Asheville when Crandall was hired by McGuire, Wood & Bissette.
With more than 6,000 craft breweries in the United States, plus more than 8,700 wineries and 1,000 distilleries, Crandall says trademark and naming issues are becoming more commonplace. Arguably the highest-profile local beer dispute involved Bell’s Brewery of Michigan and the much smaller Innovation Brewing Co. of Sylva. Bell’s claimed that Innovation’s name infringed on the Bell’s advertising slogan “Bottling innovation since 1985.”
In December 2017, Bell’s lost its case before the federal Trademark Trials and Appeals Board. Crandall was not involved in that matter but closely followed its progress and has worked with many new area breweries to verify if their potential company and beer names can legally be used.
“There are [naming] conflicts with local breweries fairly regularly,” she says. “If you’re going to name a beer with the word ‘monster’ in it, that’s a problem because ‘monster’ is incredibly litigious.”
When such issues arise, Crandall says, the best first step is a friendly phone call to the other brewery to point out the problem, which is often all that’s required to resolve the matter. If the naming problem persists, she says, she can send a letter, and from there it can be taken to court, though doing so is rare. “Ninety percent of disputes are resolved before trial,” she says.
Having a board-certified trademark specialist in Asheville has been valuable to breweries, says Kendra Penland, director of the Asheville Brewers Alliance.
“I think in craft beer, your brand is so vital, and being able to protect that brand is important,” Penland says. “Rebecca is an expert in intellectual property, and having someone like that here as part of our craft beer community is a great resource. I enjoy working with her and hanging out with her. And she really loves craft beer. She is really committed to our industry.”
Mike Rangel, president of Asheville Brewing Co., agrees. “She has helped us protect our brand from other breweries that have used the name ‘Ninja,'” he says. Through its Ninja Porter, his brewery owns national rights to that name when it applies to beer.
“She’s a problem-solving kind of attorney. She’s created agreements with out-of-state breweries that want to use ‘ninja,'” Rangel says. “It’s been a godsend having her here. People don’t even realize how much she is helping the breweries. And she’s a beer fan.”