By Diana Mivelli
UF Law grads team up to defend Northwest winery brands, find spirited perks
When Lance Reich (JD 94) pursued law at the University of Florida, he fell in with a law school crowd who was into wine. “On Friday, we’d go to the Wine and Cheese Gallery, sit outside and crank out the cheese and wine. We’d do this very regularly. People don’t think about the incredible wine culture we had at the school but I guarantee it’s still there.”
Flash forward 20 years, Reich and fellow UF Law graduate Kevin E. Regan (JD 03) represent a growing Pacific Northwest client base in the regulatory and intellectual property disputes endemic to Washington state’s wine, beer, cider and spirits industries.
Practicing in this realm has its charms — from touring vineyards and production facilities to sampling final product.
“Many people are passionate about wine and enjoy it as a pastime,” Regan said.
“Nowadays, people are doing business over a bottle of wine in the same way some conduct business on a golf course.”
Perhaps an unusual twist on a legal practice, but right in the wheelhouse of an intellectual property lawyer.
“I interned at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Gainesville my last year of law school when they changed hiring regulations and fell into patent law,” Reich said. “My mentor said ‘Florida is great for many things but patent law is not one of them. You need to go to New York, D.C. or the West Coast.’ I had a friend in California and fell into wine practice in San Francisco.”
Some of their clients at the Seattle office of Miller Nash, the firm they recently joined, are start-ups and mom-and-pop companies facing disputes with large, well-funded corporations, particularly over brands. “The best part is the clients. It is very rewarding to work with people who are passionate about what they do,” Regan said.
Regan calls alcohol beverages “brandcentric” and trademarks, as a form of intellectual property that identify the source of a good, are vital to protecting a brand. “One has to have a quality product, but a brand is an alcohol beverage company’s biggest asset,” he said.
Trademark disputes are common among wine and alcohol beverage producers.
“Right now, the disputes in Washington remind me of what was happening in Napa and Sonoma in the ’90s; these same issues are becoming common in Washington,” Reich said. “The problems are more acute now that they span multiple states and even internationally.”
In one case, Ravenswood Winery successfully opposed Black Raven Brewing Company’s bid to register its name. Ravenswood believed it was too similar and feared that consumers would think they had gotten into the beer business.
“[The case] is one example of how beer, wine, and spirits are related products, and how, as a lawyer for an alcohol beverage producer, you have to pay attention to what is going on with different products,” Regan said.
Regan’s background includes federal and state regulatory law. He represented the Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago, worked in the U.S. Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division in Washington, D.C., and with Earthjustice, an environmental nonprofit litigation firm.
There are plenty of regulatory issues in this practice area. They include federally designated growing regions known as American Viticulture Areas; the privatization of liquor sales that previously only were legal at state-run stores; and the legalization of marijuana approved by referendum in November.
And where do the tastes of these viticulture legal mavens incline? Regan prefers Washington Syrah while Reich is a fan of Australian Shiraz. “A blueberry pie in a bottle,” he gushed.