Fort Pitt battle rages anew

Joe Napsha
| Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011

Recently revived Duquesne Brewing Co. and Jones Brewing Co., which owns Stoney's beer, are fighting over who has the right to resurrect long-dormant Fort Pitt beer.

Mark J. Dudash, president of Duquesne Brewing of Upper St. Clair, and Sandy Podlucky, president of Jones Brewing of Smithton, are turning to attorneys to resolve the dispute.

The two small brewing companies are battling over the rights to revive a century-old brand that had been a powerhouse at one time in the Pittsburgh market.

Fort Pitt Brewing Co., which had plants in Sharpsburg and Jeannette, was a 1 million-barrel brewer -- as big as Pittsburgh Brewing's Iron City and Latrobe Brewing's Rolling Rock beer. It closed its Jeannette brewery in the mid-1950s and shut down in 1958. A Baltimore brewery acquired the label, but it died until Jones Brewing Co. brought it in back to Western Pennsylvania in the 1960s.

Sandy Podlucky, who took over Jones Brewing when her husband, Gabriel M. Podlucky, died in 2006, said Jones Brewing has the rights from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to sell the beer in Pennsylvania, even though it has not brewed it since the mid-1990s.

"We're registered in Pennsylvania to sell it. It's (Fort Pitt) been in the house of Jones Brewing since 1965. If he (Dudash) would have looked into that, he would have known it," Podlucky said.

But Jones Brewing and Podlucky let the Fort Pitt trademark expire in April 1996, according to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records.

Dudash, an Upper St. Clair attorney who celebrated his one-year anniversary of bottling Duquesne beer last month, said the trademark office granted him the rights to Fort Pitt for beer use in March 2009. Dudash said he is moving ahead with obtaining the required federal approvals to brew and sell the beer, and he hopes to complete the process early next year.

"The LCB rights is a minor issue. I'm not backing down. I'm not settling. These were dead labels" when he made plans to resurrect Fort Pitt beer, Dudash said.

LCB spokeswoman Stacey Witalec said the agency does not get involved in trademark rights issues.

Podlucky said she was not aware that the Fort Pitt trademark had been acquired until this summer when she was making plans to resume brewing it. Jones Brewing still has the original formula for the beer, she said.

Dudash said if Podlucky proceeds to brew the beer, "we'll be in the Western District Court," referring to the federal court in Pittsburgh.

"I want to avoid a court battle," Podlucky said but indicated she will not relinquish Fort Pitt beer without a fight. "We're dealing with legal issues. He (Dudash) just thought he could go into the back door" and the get the label.

Podlucky's trademark attorney in Washington, Paul Jorgensen, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

While Duquesne Brewing has the trademark for Fort Pitt beer, it has not yet filed a required statement of use, according to the trademark office. Duquesne Brewing's third six-month extension to file a statement of use expires on Oct. 20, and Duquesne has only two six-month extensions remaining, said trademark office spokesman Paul Fucito.

Although Duquesne has yet to file that statement, it only has to prove to the government that the trademark is in use and show proof -- a "specimen," said David P. Gaudio, a patent attorney in Carnegie.

Dudash's attorney, Robert Donahoe of Bethel Park, questioned whether Jones Brewing ever had the trademark because Fort Pitt Brewing Corp., whose president was Gregory Podlucky, owned the trademark in 1989. Sandy Podlucky said they acquired the Fort Pitt brand when they bought Jones Brewing in 1988.

Gregory Podlucky, the son of Sandy Podlucky, is the former CEO of defunct Latrobe beverage maker LeNature's Inc. He pleaded guilty in a $856M Ponzi scheme and faces a possible 20 years in prison when sentenced next month.

"All of our distributors know Jones Brewing owns the Fort Pitt label," Sandy Podlucky said.

Dudash said he notified his Duquesne beer distributors more than a year ago of his plans to sell Fort Pitt beer.

Caught in the middle of the dispute is City Brewing Co., which owns the Latrobe brewery where both Duquesne and Stoney's is brewed and bottled. Dudash never owned a brewing operation, and Podlucky's husband shut down the Jones Brewing plant about nine years ago. It moved brewing to Latrobe when Pittsburgh Brewing closed its Lawrenceville plant in June 2009.

City Brewing CEO George Park declined to comment on the matter involving two of his brewery's clients.

Cris Hoel, a Pittsburgh attorney who previously represented brewers of Iron City and Rolling Rock beers, said he believes that "the intellectual property law rather than the LCB registration governs who has the rights to produce and market a brand of beer."

"I think it is a little disheartening to see two smaller breweries devoting their attention to fighting over ownership of a dead label," Hoel said.

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