For the half-year to 31 December 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Rebecca Gulbul, Lucas Michels and Marie-Andrée Weiss.

Regular round-ups of the previous week's blogposts are kindly compiled by Alberto Bellan.

Monday, 4 August 2014

New York, New York, It’s a Wonderful… Trade Mark

The New York Times reported last week that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Port Authority) has sent a cease and desist letter to Fishs Eddy, a New York City retailer selling house wares, asking it to stop selling goods featuring drawings of some of New York City’s buildings, bridges and tunnels.  

If this is a kitchen towel, a trademark attorney wants to speak with you 
The Fishs Eddy’s 212 product line features an artistic representation of the New York City skyline on plates, glasses, or kitchen towels. The skyline is black and the silhouettes of some iconic New York City buildings are represented with their name above the drawings: the Flatiron Building, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the beloved Twin Towers. Fishs Eddy also has a ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ line, featuring New York’s iconic bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge, as well as the entrances to the Lincoln Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel.

The World Trade Center, where the Twin Towers once stood, is operated by the Port Authority. It also operates the “bridges and tunnels” which are indispensable to go in and out of the city (unless you hire a chopper of course). According to The New York Times’ article, the cease and desist letter describes them as “assets” of the Port Authority, and asks Fishs Eddy to “destroy all materials, documents and other items bearing the assets.”

 It is hard to understand what could be the legal basis for such assumptions. Some variations of “Bridge and Tunnel” are registered as trade marks in the U.S., but none by the Port Authority. The spire of the Chrysler building is registered as a trade mark, but the trade mark is not owned by the Port Authority. A few years ago, its owner had also asked Fishs Eddy, unsuccessfully, to stop selling the 212 line.

The cease and desist letter also claims that the line “interferes with the Port Authority’s control of its own reputation.” It may be that the Port Authority is moving aggressively to either prevent commercial uses of the World Trade Center. Or it could be that it wants to sell souvenirs itself. It filed a trade mark application on June 26 for ‘One World Observatory,’ serial number 86321949, in several classes, among them class 26 for hair accessories, class 27 for car mats, or class 28 for wind-up toys, yo-yos, snow globes, snow domes, bath toys, not to mention pet novelties. Its “Freedom Tower” trade mark was registered in class 16 for money clips, class 20 for plastic key chains, and many other delightful commodities, but was abandoned last year, as ‘Freedom Tower’ will finally not be the official name of the new One World Trade Center tower.

The letter also argues that the lines “evoke thoughts of the Port Authority, the twin towers, W.T.C. and the September 11th terrorist attacks.” This is particularly puzzling, as it seems that the Port Authority wishes somehow to claim ownership of 9/11 and the Twin Towers. The 212 line, complete with the Twin Towers, predated the attacks. This tragedy, and the thoughts it may evoke, certainly does not belong to a single entity, nor should it belong to anybody.

6 comments:

Roufousse T. Fairfly said...

John Oliver did a piece on this story in last Sunday's installment of Last week tonight.

Brilliant, as usual. But in NYC I've been in even seedier places as the bus terminal.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting how the current climate of aggressive enforcement and hyper-control of (actual, valid) IP rights can lead parties like the NY Port Authority to act in similar manner, without first ensuring that they do have rights which are being infringed by whatever activity is annoying them. It's very illuminating that the Port Authority does not even really try to make a case that these are IP rights and instead falls back on the vague "assets" and how ownership of those "assets" permits objection to anyone who "evokes thoughts" of those landmark places and events. Great post.

Marie-Andree Weiss said...

Thank you for the link John, I will watch it! And thank you Anonymous for the compliment :)

Elena said...

I LOVE Fishs Eddy 212 line! I hope Fishs Eddy won't back down to such a silly claim! Trade Mark infringement claims gone mad!

Thanks to first commentator for sharing the link to John Oliver's piece too!

Roufousse T. Fairfly said...

If the Port Authority's counsels eventully succeed in banning cups and plates, their next stop will probably be the New Yorker magazine.

The possibilities are endless, and case could give birth to a new industry...

Take for instance the opening credits of 1970s TV SitCom "Barney Miller" which featured a skyline of New York city, avec Twin Towers. Surely, this rather symbolic garbage barge in the foreground being towed undoubtedly constitutes a slur on the Port Authority's reputation...

Ooops, I just realized where the show's incompetent ambulance chasing attorney must be practicing these days...

Marie-Andree Weiss said...

Thanks for the guffaw Roufousse, I share your interest in 70's New York TV shows, who loves ya, Port Authority?

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