Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgium-based company behind Budweiser, Michelob, and more than 200 other beer brands around the world, recently filed trademark applications for the area codes of 15 U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C.

The move appears to be one of several that AB-InBev, whose numbers account for nearly half of all beer sales in the U.S. but have remained flat or fallen slightly over the past several years, are doing to gain part of the growing craft beer market share. Sound like a Napoleon complex to anyone else?

In March, AB-InBev bought the Chicago-based brewing company behind the Goose Island line of beers, which includes highly acclaimed craft brews like Bourbon County Stout and Belgian-style favorites Sofie and Matilda. An article in the Chicago Tribune earlier this month speculated that after the success of Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat Ale, which is named after Chicago’s telephone area code and one of the city’s top selling craft beers, AB-InBev may plan to push similar local-sounding brews in other cities.

Only AB-InBev’s area code series beers will be neither craft nor local.

The move raises an issue larger than what D.C.’s new local breweries have to say about possibly not having “202” as a beer name option. Craft brewer Bill Covaleski of Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing Company, which saw 40 percent growth last year, thinks the trademark registration is a direct attack. Covaleski told the Philadelphia Inquirer he anticipates seeing a regionalized beer with a Philadelphia area code name in his market in as soon as six months.

The real question is, then, will drinkers in each of the 15 cities that AB-InBev may plan to enter be able to tell the difference between locally-produced craft beer and the Bud-ding impostors. And will they, or should they, care?

The planners at AB-InBev likely anticipate the answer to both questions is “no.” What do you think?

Below is the full list of area codes for which the firm has applied for trademarks. You can view Anheuser-Busch’s 202 trademark application here.

  • Charlotte, North Carolina (704)
  • Cleveland, Ohio (216)
  • Dallas, Texas (214)
  • Denver, Colorado (303)
  • Houston, Texas (713)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada (702)
  • Miami, Florida (305)
  • Nashville, Tennessee (615)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (215)
  • Phoenix, Arizona (602)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (412)
  • San Diego, California (619)
  • San Francisco, California (415)
  • St Louis, Missouri (314)
  • Washington D.C. (202)

*According to the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft breweries, while U.S. beer sales were down overall in 2009 and 2010, the craft brewing industry grew 7.2 percent by volume and 10.3 percent by dollars in 2009 and was up 11 percent by volume and 12 percent by dollars in 2010. Craft beer’s numbers have doubled over the past decade but still account for just 4.9 percent of the U.S. market share by volume and 7.2 percent by dollars.

AB-InBev logo courtesy of Anheuser-Busch Inbev; Area code image used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

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