Ranch Water or ranch water, and other legal news

Ranch Water or ranch water, and other legal news

Ranch Water or ranch water?

Sometimes a good brand idea just slips away, and next thing you know someone else is using your idea to make piles of money. A couple years ago I noticed a can of Ranch Water (tequila, sparkling water, and lime juice) in the cooler of a local purveyor of tasty beverages. It was from the Ranch Rider Spirits Co.

I’m a sucker for new and interesting stuff, so of course I had to try some (it was mighty fine). A few months later, I noticed a different Ranch Water sitting beside (what I believed was) the original Ranch Water.

“That’s weird.” I pondered whether Ranch Rider Spirits Co. was aware that some joker was selling a knock-off of their original Ranch Water. Before long all sorts of Ranch Waters showed up in the cooler from all sorts of folks. “What the !?!”
Apparently, Ranch Water has been a “thing” in West Texas for quite a while, but until recently the drink hadn’t managed to maneuver much beyond the Llano Estacado. The internet has plenty of stories about its origin, but several suggest that the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas has been serving it since the 1960s.

But it gets better – there was a point in the not-too-distant past when least one entrepreneurial spirit had the chance to secure a trademark for Ranch Water and possibly lock up what has become a fairly lucrative market. In 2011, Texas Ranch Water Productions LLC from Fort Worth, Texas filed an intent-to-use trademark application for “RANCH WATER” for tequila and agave-based alcoholic beverages (except beer). An intent-to-use application is often used when you haven’t commercialized a product yet, but want to reserve the mark (brand) for when you are ready to launch. Nobody opposed the application after it was published, so the USPTO issued a Notice of Allowance, basically granting the application. Yet, Texas Ranch Water Productions apparently never managed to commercialize a drink under the Ranch Water mark, and did not file extensions with the USPTO to keep the mark alive. Thus, the company allowed its Ranch Water mark to become abandoned (lapse).

By 2017 Ranch Water(s) had escaped its West Texas confines and was flowing from the spigots of numerous beverage makers and home mixologists – so much that Ranch Water became a generic reference to tequila and agave-based cocktails. That year, the 616 Restaurant, Inc. filed its own trademark application for Ranch Water and claimed to have invented the drink. The USPTO refused the application, citing to several recipes for Ranch Water on the internet, and finding that Ranch Water was generic and merely descriptive “for a mixed alcoholic cocktail.”
Now the are all sorts of Ranch Waters competing for shelf space, including some pretty big names, like Modelo Ranch WaterDos Equis Ranch WaterTopo Chico Ranch Water Hard SeltzerRancH2O Ranch Water, and a host of others. In other words, the market for Ranch Water (which is now simply ranch water) is on a tear and generating serious money.

There are probably a few lessons here for any business, one of which is a trademark can become a really powerful asset. While its hard to say whether Texas Ranch Water Productions LLC would be raking in the money as the nation’s exclusive source of Ranch Water, they sure had a heck of a shot at it. A somewhat similar scenario is playing out in the ag input markets with biologicals, i.e., biostimulants, biopesticides, etc. While these sorts of biological inputs are still fairly new and fighting for growers’ attention, winners are bound to emerge. And a strong brand will go a long ways towards putting those companies in growers’ minds and at the front of the market.

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