Portland, Maine's Coffee by Design is struggling to defend its trademark on the term ‘CBD.'
Credit: Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

Not that long ago, the term “CBD” — short for the cannabis compound “cannabidiol” — was something you rarely heard outside of pot-smoking circles. But as America’s interest in marijuana legalization has surged, CBD — considered a more innocuous cannabinoid than the more publicized THC — has been pushed to the forefront of the discussion. In December, the latest farm bill legalized hemp, which also contains CBD, leading some to speculate that the compound was now legal, and CBD is suddenly everywhere. You can easily find everything from CBD soaps to sodas and, importantly for our context, coffee.

For the Portland, Maine-based coffee brand Coffee by Design, “CBD” isn’t the hippest part of the hemp plant; it’s the acronym for their business — and since 2010, they’ve also held a trademark on those three letters when it comes to selling coffee. But a lot has happened in those nine years (for reference, Colorado and Washington first legalized recreational pot in 2012, with Maine following suit in 2016) and, suddenly, that trademark is under assault in ways Coffee by Design never imagined.

For the record, Coffee by Design says its fine with brands looking to sell “CBD extract coffee,” but as for the terms like “CBD coffee” and “CBD cold brew,” that should still be theirs. “We’re well within our rights to prevent others from using the term CBD as a trademark in relation to coffee and coffee shops,” co-owner Alan Spear told Bloomberg. “As a responsible trademark owner, we have an obligation.” (It should be noted that if you don’t actively work to protect your trademark, you can legally lose control of it.) “All we hope to do is prevent consumers from being confused about what they are purchasing and who they are purchasing it from,” Spear added.

And that’s not the only issue Coffee by Design is facing. Some people are reaching out to “CBD” to get their “CBD coffee” under the assumption that it’s made with, yeah, CBD. “We’ve been mail-ordering coffee all over the country and Japan,” Spear told the Portland Press Herald. “If somebody orders our coffee and they think it has CBD in it, there’s going to be a problem.”

So Spear offered a solution. “Take CBD off and call it what it is,” he said. “Call it cannabidiol.” Though if cannabidiol keeps proliferating at its current rate, Coffee by Design may be the ones who’d be better off going by the long version of their name.