Psst! Wanna Buy an Old Brand? Nostalgia Goes for Bargain Prices at Auction

Remember Meister Brau beer or Pom Poms candies? How about Collier's magazine or General Cinema movie theaters? Following a Dec. 8 trademark auction, those classic brand names -- and dozens of others -- may soon be going back into business.

Michael Reich, CEO of Brands USA Holdings, has spent years accumulating moribund trademarks, or at least the right to use them. And while some of the trademarked names he controls were sold outright in the auction, many of them were packaged as intent-to-use applications, which means the holders will be issued trademarks only if they're making products by a specified date.

In the case of Meister Brau, that shouldn't be too hard. The iconic pale lager, which Miller used to own, still has some brand recognition. After all, it sold for $32,500. Now, its new owner has until Aug. 17, 2013 -- more than two years -- to start brewing beer.

Other auction winners, though, are likely to face uphill battles in their attempts to resurrect once-famous brands. For example, Victrola, which sold for $1,000, was a household name -- in the 1920s. Although it survived as an RCA record label until the early 1970s, the company's new owners will need to find a way to promote a brand that has been out of commission for almost four decades. To make things tougher, they have only until Aug. 19 to turn Victrola into a going concern.

Intent-to-Use Confusion May Have Kept Buyers Away

Asked why someone might want to buy a dead trademark, Reich responds that, even in the absence of wide consumer recognition, many of these brand names are a good deal. "If you are in a business where one of our brands fits," he notes, "It may be more cost-efficient to buy an established brand rather than buying a going concern." And, as some analysts have pointed out, using an established name that has already proven successful can save money on market testing and other startup expenses.

This is likely to be the case with less-familiar names such as the Linen Closet, Computer City, and the Financial Corporation of America, all of which sold for $2,000 apiece. For that matter, General Cinema, a generic-sounding theater name, went for $1,000 and is likely to do quite well for its new owners -- assuming that they can open doors on a movie house by May 5.

Only a few dozen of the 170 brands that Reich owns actually sold in December, a result that he attributes to confusion over the format of the sale. "Some people were put off by the auction process," he notes. "People are used to buying real estate at auction, but are not used to this process when it comes to brands."

Part of the confusion may also have resulted from a lack of understanding of intent-to-use rights, which amount to a sort of functional ownership of a brand name. It's worth noting that the highest sale price -- $45,000 -- went for Shearson, the former brokerage and investment bank. In addition to a recognizable name, the brand came with free-and-clear trademark ownership.

Reich emphasizes that the brands that didn't sell on Dec. 8 are still available, and their prices are open to negotiation. "Who knows?" he said. "Maybe buying a brand will be simpler now that the auction is over."

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Tim Miller

National Premium Beer is making a comeback too. It was a Baltimore based Pilsener that was from thew same stable as National Bohemian and Colt 45.

January 19 2011 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Vinyl records and tube amps give a special sound that digital can't offer so Victrola would have special meaning in the reproduction market.

January 09 2011 at 3:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Since you could still buy some vinyl records in the 1990's there are Crosley record players still being sold so Victrola could be picked up by them.

January 09 2011 at 3:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You won't see name brands like Click Clacks or Lawn Darts because they were dsngerous toys taken off the US market. The toys caused injuries and deaths probably millions in lawsuits.

January 09 2011 at 3:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Victrola would be a name you would think General Electric might want since they own RCA unless it was spun off with NBC in the Comcast deal.

January 09 2011 at 3:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

"Live love laugh ... & Meister Brau". That brand still very much missed here in Chicagoland. I hope that drink gets back on the shelves!

January 08 2011 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to selfenchanted's comment

I can remember when Meister Brau was one of the beers sold at Comisky Park. That was back in the days of Richie Allen wearing the red pinstripes.

January 10 2011 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I read the name Victrola and thought back to the 78's I remember with that name on it, and it was actually a pleasant thought association. I hope the name can make a comeback on possibly a viable nostalgic line.

January 08 2011 at 9:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply