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Monday, November 28, 2011

TTB Issues Guidance on Changes to Personalized Labels, Just in Time for The Holidays!

Producers that create personalized labels for consumers (as opposed to labels made for retail or wholesale customers other than the ultimate consumers) have now been provided with guidance from the TTB regarding what changes to the COLAs for such personalized labels require approval from the TTB.  For personalized labels, TTB had previously permitted the holder of an approved COLA to change items such as salutations, names, and event dates on the label without applying for a new COLA, but did not allow changes to the artwork or graphics on personalized labels without resubmission of the labels for approval.  TTB has revised its position on this matter and now permits changes to the graphics or artwork on a previously approved personalized label without having to apply for a new certificate of label approval.

If you want to retain the flexibility to make changes to the personalized labeling information without submitting new applications for label approval, you should follow the steps included in the TTB advisory: 

1)      Initially, you should apply for a COLA that will act as a template and will include a label or labels that, at a minimum, contain all mandatory information required by the applicable regulations, as well as any other information on the label that is not part of the personalized label.

2)      The application should also include (either in item 19 of the paper application, or in the special wording section of the COLAs Online application), a description of the specific personalized information that may change.  For example, you could include the following in your application: “The graphics, salutations, dates, and artwork presented on this label may be changed to personalize this label.” For bottles etched with personalized information, the application must also note that personalized information will be etched on the bottle. The label submitted with the COLA may contain a “blank” area where customized artwork or information will appear when the actual labels are printed.

The TTB’s approval of the personalized label COLA will include the following qualification: “The approval of this COLA covers this label and any additions, deletions or changes in graphics, salutations, congratulatory dates and names, and artwork to personalize the label as indicated on the application. This approval to change the personalizing information does not permit the addition of any information that discusses either the alcohol beverage or characteristics of the alcohol beverage or that is inconsistent with or in violation of the provisions of 27 CFR parts 4, 5, 7 or 16, as applicable, or any other applicable provision of law or regulations.”  Always remember that although you may be permitted to make changes to an approved personalized label that are consistent with the above qualification, you are not permitted to change any of the mandatory label information, such as the brand name or the class or type designation.  Further, as noted by the qualification, any discussion of the alcohol beverage product or its characteristics is not covered by the authorization to add or change personalized information to the label.

The TTB did make clear that this revision regarding changes to personalized labels does not apply to customized private labels created for purchasers other than the ultimate consumer. Such private labels, typically made for a retailer or wholesaler, may bear a brand name or artwork that is specific to that purchaser who is buying the product in order to sell it to consumers remain subject to the same requirements as other labels. The TTB also clarified that this advisory did not apply to or otherwise permit those changes that are generally prohibited, such as changes to approved labels that are made after the container bearing the label has been removed from the bottling premises or from customs custody and shipped in interstate commerce.

Finally, when submitting personalized labels for approval, remember that, other than as set forth in this advisory, personalized information and artwork on labels are subject to all the same regulations, including the regulations regarding prohibited practices, as information and graphics on non-personalized labels. You may not add personalized statements, graphics, pictorial or emblematic representations that are not allowed on labels that undergo TTB review.

For assistance with COLAs or more information about the TTB Advisory above, please contact Bahaneh Hobel at bhobel@dpf-law.com  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

California ABC Reverses Position on Third-Party Providers Following Industry Input

The California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control has reevaluated and reversed its position on third-party providers conducting marketing of alcohol beverage products over the Internet, as well as the propriety of licensing a trademark for use on alcohol beverage products without being a producer with an ABC license. This has come after a stakeholder committee, which was formed at the request of ABC, presented its findings to the Department last month.

ABC now feels “that licensees and Third Party Providers can form business relationships that facilitate lawful transactions for sales of alcoholic beverages over the Internet”

Mike Mann of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty was one of the industry members selected by ABC to be on this special committee.  According to Mann, this was a process of numerous conference call meetings with participants on the committee from throughout the state.  As a participant on the committee, Mann believes that "a lot of time and energy went into this by all of those involved and the outcome is a great step forward." Mann points out, however, that there are also limitations outlined in the advisory of which everyone should be aware.

The advisory is also of particular interest to trademark owners that license their trademarks for use on alcohol beverage products.  Following the Department's earlier advisory, it appeared that ABC was of the belief that a trademark owner could not license its trademark for use on alcohol beverage products made in California without also having some type of ABC license for the production or sale of such alcohol beverage.  This position ran contrary to all concepts of trademark licensing as is traditional for most goods outside of the alcohol beverage industry. 

However, with the input of the committee, ABC has now taken a much more balanced approach in allowing trademark owners to license their marks on alcohol beverage products without requiring that the trademark owners also own an ABC license to produce or sell the product.  According to Scott Gerien, head of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty's intellectual property department, "the ABC's new position allows trademark owners to license their marks on alcohol beverage products in the same way they would any other product without having to worry they are violating the laws of the State of California."

The full text of the new ABC Advisory may be found HERE.  

For more information or assistance on California ABC matters contact Mike Mann at mmann@dpf-law.com.  For more information or assistance on trademark or intellectual property matters contact Scott Gerien at sgerien@dpf-law.com.