Monday, June 7, 2010

Bayer and Bayer are now just Bayer

While researching the story of two separate Vince's Spaghetti locations - one in Ontario, California, the other in Torrance, California - I ran across this explanation:

After 25 years of working with the family, Vince and his brothers agreed to go their separate ways; Vince sold his interest in the Ontario location and moved with his wife Louise, daughter Rosemary (affectionately known as DeeDee), and her husband Bill, to the South Bay.

This is from the Torrance side; the Ontario side does not mention it.

As I was thinking of this split, I was reminded of another corporate split - one that occurred under very different circumstances.

I am, in the eyes of some of you, quite elderly. In fact, I am so elderly that when I was growing up, children and adults would use aspirin for pain relief. (And yes, my family did have a horseless carriage.) And one of the leading aspirin brands was Bayer.

Some time later, I ran across some gardening supplies, also from Bayer, but with a different logo.

I knew bits and pieces of the story, but hadn't really looked into the whole thing. But I did know that Bayer AG, a German company founded in 1863, underwent a forced reorganization in 1917:

The effects of the war were devastating. The company lost most of its foreign assets and the export markets - upon which the company's further development depended - remained largely inaccessible. Bayer's Russian subsidiary was expropriated as a result of the Russian Revolution. The company's U.S. assets, including its patents and trademarks, were confiscated in 1917 and auctioned off to its competitors. Sales in 1919 amounted to only two thirds of the 1913 figure.

While the competitors were able to benefit from Bayer's aspirin patent, others who acquired German patents weren't so lucky. The story of the German dye patents is quite interesting:

The German patents, which were confiscated by the U.S. government during the war, could not be duplicated by Du Pont’s chemists. The patents were written in a purposely vague manner with key information omitted. It was apparent that the patents could only be worked by a chemist “skilled in the art”, meaning an experienced German chemist. For many years this obfuscation helped Germany dominate the global dye market and limited U.S. attempts to enter the field.

Back to aspirin. Here in the U.S., the Bayer brand was acquired by Sterling Drug, which eventually became Sterling Winthrop. Therefore, back when I was growing up, Bayer was not manufactured by Bayer.

In fact, I was under the impression that this was where it stood today, and I start writing this post assuming that there were two Bayers, just as there are two Vince's Spaghetti chains. What I didn't realize, however, was that there was another acquisition in 1994.

In 1994, Bayer AG purchased Sterling Winthrop's over the counter drug business from SmithKline Beecham and merged it with Miles Laboratories, thereby reacquiring the U.S. and Canadian trademark rights to "Bayer" and the Bayer cross, as well as the ownership of the Aspirin trademark in Canada.

Unfortunately, by the time that Bayer finally reacquired the U.S. rights to Bayer, aspirin had become old-fashioned, if not downright evil. But one decade's hero is another decade's goat, as this Bayer page shows.

We want to assure you that Bayer Aspirin products do not contain acetaminophen.

Somewhere or another, Friedrich Bayer is smiling.
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