In what could be seen as an attempt to mimic the local marketing success of its popular Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Anheuser-Busch InBev has filed applications to trademark the signature area codes of 15 U.S. cities.
Chicago-based Goose Island parent Fulton Street Brewery LLC, acquired by Anheuser-Busch as part of a $38.8 million deal earlier this year, holds registered trademarks on "312 Urban Wheat" and "312 Urban Wheat Ale Goose Island Chicago." When the acquisition was announced, Anheuser-Busch pledged to pump $1.3 million into boosting Goose Island's brewing capacity.
Now, 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).
Scott Slavick, who specializes in trademark law at Chicago-based intellectual property firm Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, says Anheuser Busch's intent appears clear.
"My guess is they want to come out with sort of local-sounding beer products," Slavick said. "People enjoy thinking that they're getting beer from a particular area."
And those products, Slavick said, could show up any time, trademark or no.
"If the patent and trademark office says you're OK and no third parties have a problem with it, then you get what's called a notice of allowance. Then you have three years from that date to demonstrate use of your mark in order to get it registered.
"The fact that they filed on an intent-to-use basis doesn't mean that they couldn't already be using these marks or intend to come out with them at any time."
News of the applications was first reported by Craft Business Daily, a beer industry publication.
Goose Island launched 312 in 2004, though founder and then-CEO John Hall disagreed with his brewmaster son, Greg, over the name. The father insisted the beer carry the Goose Island moniker, the Tribune later reported, while the younger Hall wanted a name that unmistakably linked the new brew to its home city. Hence, "312" was born and quickly went on to become the company's top seller. In 2009, it was listed as the No. 2-selling craft beer in Chicago behind only Samuel Adams Boston Lager, according to industry stats.
Anheuser-Busch confirmed the applications but would not say what it intended to do with the names.