CHICAGO — Illinois’ burgeoning marijuana industry has a trademark problem.
Since selling weed is still illegal on a national level, cannabis companies can get federal trademarks on some — but not all — parts of their business. They can’t trademark the marijuana itself, including the wacky and easy-to-remember names that companies have given to various strains, like Alien Bubba, Candyland and Granola Funk.
The predicament weed companies find themselves is akin to if Frito-Lay were able to trademark Cheetos but not the name of its Flamin’ Hot flavor.
But since nothing keeps knockoff products and customer confusion at bay like a federal trademark, companies are doing what they can to protect their growing national brands.
“We want to have the same protections for our brands as Advil, Snickers and Miller Lite do,” said Jason Erkes, spokesman for Cresco Labs, which sells its products in more than 600 dispensaries in seven states. “Being able to protect the brand you’re building equity in is one of your most important assets.”
Trademarks are requested through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which refuses registration when an application identifies goods that include marijuana. It recently started granting trademarks for goods and services related to hemp-derived CBD, which was legalized nationwide late last year and does not get users high.
The agency is aware that marijuana companies have found legal workarounds to their trademark debacle. When it clarified its views on CBD earlier this year, it advised that “when applications recite services involving cannabis-related activities, they will be examined for compliance” with the law.
One tactic companies use as a get-around: Apply for a trademark for a line of products, but don’t mention those products include actual marijuana.
PharmaCann has a marijuana product line called Matter. But the Chicago-based company sought a