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Milwaukee business owners debate trademarking of city's area code

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- There's a growing debate in Milwaukee over whether you can own the city's area code.

Local businesses are upset as one business owner started enforcing a trademark of "414" and then sending cease and desist letters.

The man behind the brand says he's not trying to be the "bad guy" here. But others say they should be able to celebrate their city without fear of getting sued.

"Our nonprofits, our local organizations, our local brands should be able and be allowed to use our area code, 414," said business owner and Event Coordinator Mo Crosby. 

But right now, some are getting cease and desist letters for having the numbers on their apparel. 

They're coming from Fred Gillich, who also owns Too Much Metal. 

Gillich has federal trademarks for "414," and over the phone, told CBS 58 he's just protecting his brand.

"It seems like a lot more than protecting a brand whenever the design looks different except for the numbers, it seems more like protecting a pocket," Crosby said.

Beard MKE got one of Gillich's letters for selling "414 All" shirts to support area causes. 

Local business owner Mo Crosby says many of her colleagues are afraid to fight back. 

"The amount of money that they would have to put into it would run them out of business," she said. 

Gillich, who's also the man behind the giant "414" flag, says he doesn't want consumers to be confused when it comes to apparel. 

And by law, he hasn't done anything wrong.

"It doesn't stop anyone from using their telephone numbers, it just stops them from using a confusingly similar source identifier," said James Lowe, patent and trademark attorney. "The fact it happens to be an area code is kind of beside the point."

Gillich says he has no problem with other business owners, and is open to partnering and licensing "414" as he has done in the past.

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