Protect Your Brand: An Interview with Ian Williams of Deadstock Coffee
Talking Branding with Deadstock Coffee:
Consumers and entrepreneurs alike know that the marketplace is often flooded with hundreds of different brands, all trying to sell essentially the same products or services. For instance, there are over 700 coffee shops in just Portland, Oregon. So how do businesses set themselves apart from their competition, who may be selling a comparable product or service at a similar price point? The marketing term is branding, but in the legal world, it’s all about trademark law. To learn about how one Portland company does it, we interviewed Ian Williams—owner of Portland, Oregon's Deadstock Coffee.
Trademark Law 101:
In the U.S., trademarks are protected on both the federal and state levels, although federal law offers a higher degree of protection for trademark owners. Trademark law is all about identifying the source of a product or service. When you build your brand—or “mark”—you build your business’s reputation and goodwill along with it. For example, when you see the Nike “swoosh” or Apple logo on a product, you know exactly what kind of quality you’re going to get. It takes time, money, and effort to build that kind of reputation. And that’s why trademark law protects trademark owners from imitation by competitors.
However, the importance of obtaining trademark protection isn’t exclusively so you can prevent knockoffs. Having clear and distinguishable branding is also instrumental in developing a strong client and customer base. For example, in the coffee world, the result is often the same—you get a caffeine fix. But coffee connoisseurs still have strong preferences when it comes to which coffee shops they frequent. This makes it particularly difficult to carve out a niche in the market if you’re looking to start a coffee shop in Portland, where there are already hundreds of options for those craving a latte.
Community, Sneakers, and Caffeine:
In the two-and-a-half years that Deadstock Coffee has been in business, Ian Williams has managed to build a brand that's unlike all their local competition. Deadstock Coffee is located in Portland’s Chinatown neighborhood, which is the creative hub for Portland's sneaker culture. Before opening his own coffee shop, Ian was a Nike employee—he started as a janitor, and worked his way up to a shoe developer. Over the past few years, Deadstock Coffee has made a name for itself as a shoe and sports themed coffee spot, which has a "look and feel" unlike any other café in town.
Ian’s first experience as an entrepreneur in Portland’s coffee scene was not the most welcoming, however. He had attended several coffee-related events to build his network, but didn’t receive any support from his peers. In fact, no one seemed to take Ian seriously. That’s when he noticed that there was no one in Portland’s coffee scene who even looked like him. Instead of letting that fact discourage him, Ian became even more invested in creating a space where all members of the community would feel welcome.
Deadstock Coffee's One-of-a-Kind Brand:
Even though Deadstock Coffee started out as more art and community focused, it's gotten serious about coffee and now locally roasts its own coffee beans. Ian wanted to create a standard, no-frills, but still very good roast—which he’s certainly accomplished with his “Baseline” whole bean coffee. This common sports term is in line with Deadstock Coffee’s sports theme. It also encompasses Ian’s concept of a standard, great coffee. Clever!
And that’s not all. Deadstock Coffee also has a drink called the LaBronald Palmer, which—you guessed it—is a shout out to LaBron James, a basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose favorite beverage is allegedly the Arnold Palmer. The LaBronald Palmer is a mix of lemonade, sweet tea, and coffee, and it’s delightfully refreshing. Deadstock has many more offerings with clever branding, but we won’t name them all here. You’ll just have to check out the café for yourself.
How to Protect Your Brand:
Deadstock Coffee has obtained federal trademark registrations for both its brand name and logo, and plans to apply for trademark protection for its new product line. Like Deadstock, the best way to protect your unique brand is to file at least one federal trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But before you apply, you’ll want to conduct a trademark search to ensure that no one else is using your proposed mark in a confusingly similar way. While it’s possible for a non-lawyer to file her own trademark application, it’s often a smart idea to meet with an experienced intellectual property attorney to discuss how to protect your brand—as well as your other intellectual property assets, such as patents, copyrights, and trade secrets.
You can find Deadstock Coffee at 408 NW Couch St, Portland, OR 97209.
Res Nova Law is an intellectual property and business law firm based in beautiful Portland, Oregon, serving innovative companies and entrepreneurs across the Pacific Northwest. We’re your go-to lawyers for startups and well-established businesses of all sizes and in every stage of business growth. Our legal services include business formation, contract drafting, intellectual property advising and litigation, business advising and litigation, and more. We also offer outside counsel plans for businesses with ongoing legal needs.