City Of Portland Still Jerking Around Local Businesses Over Trademark Of Famous City Sign
from the trademarkia dept
The last time we checked in with the city of Portland, it was attempting to navigate some perilous waters regarding a trademark the city has on a famous city sign. Beer-maker Pabst, which I am to understand somehow won a blue ribbon a long time ago, built a logo for a concert series it wanted to promote in Portland that served as an homage to the famous sign, which includes an outline of the state and a stag leaping across the top of it. Because of this, the city saw fit to send a cease and desist notice to Pabst, despite beer not generally being a competitor for a city’s tourism business. When everyone pointed this out to the city, it decided to not pursue any legal action. But the city continued to threaten local businesses with its trademark, including Vintage Roadside, which sells a “Made In Portland” series of photos on Etsy, some of which included the famous sign. Vintage Roadside decided to sue the city to have the trademark declared invalid, prompting Portland officials to issue a covenant not to sue to avoid any ruling on the matter.
You might have thought that this series of slapdowns would have deterred Portland officials from this bullying course of action, but you’d be wrong. Portland attempted to expand the trademark it has for the sign into the alcohol designation, thinking that it could license the image to beermakers and make some coin. Unfortunately for the city, a local brewery already has a trademark for the sign for the beer business.
Adam Milne’s brewpub is fighting City Hall. And as of today, Milne is winning. The white sign hanging above the front door of Old Town Brewing’s taproom on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard features the silhouette of a leaping buck. Behind the bar, a herd of white stags bound across eight wooden beer tap handles. The glasses, the coasters, and every bottle of Pilsner brewed in-house are festooned with the jumping deer—the same one that glows on the iconic “Portland Oregon” sign.
In the fall of 2016, the city attempted to expand its trademark into the territory of beer. This September, a year later, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the city’s request, citing the similarity to Old Town Brewing’s trademark, issued in 2012.
“Getting the trademark was a very long, challenging process,” Milne says. “We’ve built a brand we’re so proud of.”
Now, Portland has been clear that it intends to partner with macro-breweries across the nation in a licensing scheme for the sign. It surely must have known that Old Town Brewing, local to the area, had a trademark on the imagery in question, yet it attempted to register the mark anyway. And, after the rebuke from the USPTO, it seems the city is still going to pursue the mark, essentially trying to muscle out a local business to pursue national licensing arrangements.
Bryant Enge, director of the city’s Bureau of Internal Business Services, says he’s not discouraged by the patent office’s rejection of Portland’s trademark application. “Initial trademark application rejections are not uncommon,” Enge says. “We’re confident that the trademark will be approved.”
And the city is not even waiting for its preferred outcome before pursuing the very licensing arrangements that were the impetus for all this to begin with.
Curiously, while the federal patent office ruled that Old Town Brewing’s claim to the White Stag image is “incontestable,” the city continues to negotiate with big brewers over licensing rights. The Pabst deal with the city doesn’t bother Milne—a unicorn isn’t going to be confused with a stag, he says. But the local beer makers at Old Town Brewing fear the city will try to license the image of the stag to large, corporate alcohol sellers.
That sure reads like a pretty blatant violation of trademark law, with the added spice of it being done by a city government to one of its constituent businesses. Whatever the outcome of the trademark appeal, that’s pretty gross.