Possible deal in Portland, Pabst brouhaha over iconic sign
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland has reached a possible settlement in its trademark dispute with the maker of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the beer rejuvenated by the city’s turn-of-the-century hipsters.
The disagreement stemmed from the brewer’s use of an iconic downtown sign to promote a 2014 music festival.
The large neon landmark, which boasts a stag and the words “Portland Oregon,” is considered one of the most recognizable features of the city’s skyline. The deer’s nose lights up red at Christmastime.
The city had denied Pabst permission because it doesn’t allow images of the sign to be used for products not available to people of all ages.
City attorneys say Pabst Brewing Co. then created a “confusingly similar” knockoff. In essence, it replaced the words “Portland Oregon” with “Project Pabst” and swapped out the stag in favor of a unicorn.
The City Council was to vote Wednesday on whether to sue Pabst. But the item was pulled from the agenda because of what Mayor Charlie Hales described as a potential settlement.
A city attorney and a Pabst representative did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
For those familiar with Portland’s storied social scene, the idea of the city suing Pabst is as unthinkable as James Bond ordering a stirred martini.
Pabst Blue Ribbon became synonymous with Portland in the late 1990s and early 21st century as a prominent subculture of young people embraced the working-class brand that had largely fallen out of favor with the previous generation.
The website promoting the 2015 Project Pabst music festival notes the connection: “We may have been established in Milwaukee in 1844, but it was in Portland that Pabst was reborn. Our love letter to Portland has been written in the stars for some time now.”
The sign, meanwhile, was installed around World War II and carried a variety of messages before “Portland Oregon.”
The city bought it in 2010 to thwart a controversial plan to change the slogan to “University of Oregon,” which is more than 100 miles south of Portland.
The city trademarked the image and for several years has charged those who want to use it for commercial purposes.
Maintaining the sign costs more than $2,000 per month, and the fees defray some of the cost, said Jen Clodius, spokeswoman for the city’s Bureau of Internal Business Services.
She said nearly 50 entities have paid, including the American Institute of Architects and the television show “Portlandia.”
The city has sent at least three cease-and-desist letters to companies using the image without authorization, including a recent one to ride-hailing company Uber.
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