Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Want to rep the 412? Anheuser-Busch may be getting there first

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 4:15 PM

Courtesy of yesterday's Chicago Tribune, we learn that beermaking giant Anheuser-Busch is seeking to trademark Pittsburgh's area code:

[A] search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's online database shows that on May 20, Anheuser-Busch filed applications to trademark: "704" (Charlotte, N.C.), "216" (Cleveland), "214" (Dallas), "303" (Denver), "713" (Houston), "702" (Las Vegas), "305" (Miami), "615" (Nashville, Tenn.), "215" (Philadelphia), "602" (Phoenix), "412" (Pittsburgh), "619" (San Diego), "415" (San Francisco), "314" (St. Louis) and "202" (Washington)

Sure enough, I found the trademark application online, serial number 85326213. (see for yourself here.)

What's going on here? Anheuser-Busch InBev -- a global beermaking conglomerate that makes Budweiser and a bunch of other labels -- is apparently looking to copy the success of Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat Ale, whose name is taken from an area code used in Chicago. The beermaker is not disclosing its plans. But as a property-rights lawyer tells the Tribune, "My guess is they want to come out with sort of local-sounding beer products. People enjoy thinking that they're getting beer from a particular area."

And really, who better to capitalize on Pittsburgh's regional identity than Anheuser-Busch InBev, a firm with roots in St. Louis that is owned by Belgians? You can almost taste that local flavor already! 

Of course, Anheuser-Busch bought up Rolling Rock beer several years ago, moving production to Newark. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised if someday they produce a 412 Ale ... even if we have to call long-distance to reach the brewery that makes it.

But can a company actually trademark an area code?

I called up the law firm of Beck & Thomas, which specializes in patent law (and which is located squarely in the 412 itself). Attorney Paul Beck told me such trademarks are "nothing new"; vanity phone numbers, for example, have been trademarked for years. "Anything is capable of serving as a mark," he said, providing it meets various legal requirements, many of which have to do with not causing marketplace confusion.

But if Anheuser-Busch patents "412," will we have to cut Budweiser in for a percentage when we get someone's phone number in a bar? Or as one online commentator wondered, could writing down your own number result in trademark infringement?

"You're safe, Chris," Beck replied. 

Budweiser can trademark the "412" ... but only for purposes of identifying a brand of beer, he says. "You can't own a mark or a term just generally, for any purposes," he says. What's more, "You can't take it away once it's in the public domain." Other businesses could use "412" themselves, provided they weren't using it to sell beer.

No doubt that will come as a relief to these guys. Unless they were planning on going into the brewing business, of course.

But even with these trademark applications, there's plenty of opportunity out there. For one thing, Anheuser-Busch isn't trademarking the use of 724 -- the area code in use in Pittsburgh's more far-flung suburbs. Of course, given the demographics of our far-flung suburbs, you could probably only use 724 to sell pale ales. But just imagine the commercials you'd be able to make:

"724 Pale Ale -- a taste as bold as Murrysville."

Who could pass that up? 

CRUCIAL UPDATE: It's just come to my attention that a 724 beer already exists ... and it is, in fact, a (imperial) pale ale. It's made by Beaver Brewing Company. Please make a note of it: I wouldn't want to be responsible for any trademark violations.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

City council passes diesel-emission limits

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2011 at 3:16 PM

Pittsburgh's air will soon be a little easier to breathe.

Today, City Council unanimously passed legislation requiring that contractors on publicly subsidized projects reduce their diesel emissions. The bill, known as the "Clean Air Act," mandates that contractors receiving taxpayer support must retrofit their diesel-powered vehicles with pollution-control devices.

"To have City Council taking a concrete step like this to improve our air is huge," Tom Hoffman, western Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, announced at a press conference outside City Council chambers shortly before council voted to pass the bill. "[This bill] is really about being good stewards for the planet."

Tom Hoffman (at podium) and other activists hail passage of council's new diesel-emissions bill. - PHOTOS BY CHRIS YOUNG
  • Photos by Chris Young
  • Tom Hoffman (at podium) and other activists hail passage of council's new diesel-emissions bill.

"It's not going to solve all of our pollution problems," added Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, "[but] this legislation is a step in the right direction."

According to the bill, contractors will be required to install pollution-control devices on vehicles being used on projects that total at least $2.5 million and that benefit from at least $250,000 in city subsidies.

"If you're going to take our tax dollars," Hoffman told City Paper this morning, "we're going to use it in a way that benefits the community."

The Clean Air Act, designed to "minimize human exposure and health risks from diesel particulate emissions," was born out of a progressive movement that began about two years ago. Representatives of Pittsburgh United, an activist organization composed of unions, environmental groups and community organizations, worked with city councilors to help craft legislation designed to reform Pittsburgh's economic-development process. Their agenda included three main areas: jobs, clean water and clean air.

In early 2010, City Council passed a prevailing-wage bill requiring developers who receive subsidies to pay the private sector going rate to building service, food service, hotel and grocery workers. And one year ago, City Council approved the "Clean Water Act," a bill requiring developers receiving city subsidies to reduce storm-water runoff.

With today's vote -- City Councilor Doug Shields voted "Aye for clean air!" -- all three initiatives have been accomplished. Supporters credited the positive collaboration between labor unions, environmental groups and community organizations.

"These movements have a history of clashing," Tom Wolper, a volunteer leader for the Sierra Club, told CP this morning.

Wolper said passing the Clean Water Act is important because Pittsburgh -- widely known for its poor air quality -- hasn't taken measures to reduce air pollution in decades.

"Just getting [clean air] back on the public agenda is important," he said. "It's a matter of the city having the will to say, 'We have to run diesel as clean as possible.'"

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