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Green Business Law: PNC Registers “Green Branch” with Trademark Office

“Green Branch” is now a registered trademark of PNC Bank. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) recently granted the mark to PNC, which is actively participating in USGBC’s LEED Portfolio Pilot Program. PNC currently manages forty LEED-certified branch banks in six states, with more on the way. Fifteen of these branches have been certified under the Portfolio Program. We’ve written previously here at gbNYC about both the Portfolio Program and PNC’s green efforts, which also include plans to seek LEED ratings for Three PNC Plaza, a mixed-use building in Pittsburgh that should open in 2009, and a new regional headquarters in downtown D.C. scheduled for 2010. According to PNC, the USPTO approved its application for the “Green Branch” trademark in part because the financial services industry is not generally associated with sustainable or energy-efficiency characteristics. PNC opened its first LEED-certified branch back in 2002, and Gary Saulson, director of corporate real estate at the bank, noted that the mark is “affirmation of PNC’s leadership in green business practices during the past decade.”

Just as a brief aside, under the federal statute that governs trademarks- section 45 of the Lanham Act- the term “trademark” is defined as “any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, used by a person, or which a person has a bona fide intention to use in commerce . . . to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown.” Essentially, PNC’s application convinced the USPTO that the financial services it offers from its green bank branches are a “unique product” from those “manufactured or sold by others” in the financial services industry.

Still, I’m curious whether other retailers, looking to capitalize on marketing green good will, may be discouraged from participating in the LEED Portfolio Program (once it’s formally adopted by USGBC) because “Green Branch” is now the intellectual property of PNC. Nevertheless, it’s quite amazing that in the course of just one year we’ve not only seen the launch and close of the successful Portfolio Program, but yet another intersection of law, business, and sustainability that’s being driven by USGBC. This is by no means a bad thing, but green industry stakeholders should be mindful of the twists that sustainability adds to traditional business and legal principles. Again, consulting with an attorney not only familiar with the underlying law- construction, intellectual property, or otherwise- but also the constantly shifting green landscape is an imperative, particularly as the sustainable ambit expands outside of traditional sector strongholds.

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One Response to Green Business Law: PNC Registers “Green Branch” with Trademark Office

  1. Marc Silberman January 6, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    Do you know the architect/builder of the PNC Branch in Gillette, NJ?

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