Businessmen make a date with fortune

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Two British computer experts hope to become the world's first "Millenniumaires" by registering four American cities and the number 2000 as trade marks.

Martyn Emery and his partner, Mike Moss, have already set up companies in the United States called New York 2000 Inc, Dallas 2000 Inc, Chicago 2000 Inc and Las Vegas 2000 Inc. Within weeks, they will learn from the US authorities whether an application giving them sole rights to the expression "New York 2000" has been successful. If so, the men stand to earn a cut from merchandising sales estimated in hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It's a bit of a punt, but if it works, we could be the first Millenniumaires," said Mr Emery, 35. "If we get sole rights to "New York 2000", then we'll apply to trademark the others and we're looking at San Francisco and Seattle, too."

The men got the idea for their project while lecturing to businesspeopleon the dangers inherent in computer systems when their internal calendars return to "00" at the end of this decade - the so-called millennium bug. They set up a British company, Corporation 2000 Ltd, in Brockenhurst, Hampshire and then established Corporation 2000 Inc and New York 2000 Inc last July.

"We were surprised that no one had registered `New York 2000', so we looked around the country and found that it was wide open," said Mr Emery. "We made our application for a trademark last October, so we hope to find out the result very soon. There have been no objections so far."

The application is currently being considered by the Commissioner for Trademarks in Arlington, Virginia, but the businessmen have already secured a meeting with New York City officials.

"If we get the trademark, we would rather team up with someone who has the resources to defend it legally," said Mr Emery.

"Obviously, we would share it with the City of New York in return for a percentage. We'd rather have a small percentage of a large amount than 100 per cent of nothing."

A spokeswoman for the Mayor's office in New York displayed the kind of equanimity unlikely to be found in London if an American had bought the rights to the capital's name.

"Our business development corporation will have to look at the implications of this carefully ... but on the face of it, the concept is a good old-fashioned piece of free enterprise," she said.