Official NJ Turnpike coffee mugs, anyone? State wants to license them
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Would your morning commute be a little better if you were drinking coffee from an official New Jersey Turnpike travel mug? Would paying tolls be a little less of a task if you could reach in to a genuine Garden State Parkway purse for a quarter to throw in the basket?
NJ.com reports these products and more could hit the shelves and boardwalk souvenir shops if the New Jersey Turnpike Authority finds an agent who can get the right price for the use of the Parkway and Turnpike logos.
The authority, which dubbed those logos as "the most iconic of New Jersey images" wants them to join the Nike Swoosh and the Adidas stripes as marketable trademarks that companies will pay to slap on products. To do that, the authority is seeking a marketing gunslinger to make sure they and tollpayers don't get taken for a ride from knock-off products.
The search for a licensing agent comes less than a year since authority officials filed a lawsuit against a Florida pizzeria to block them from using a sign they contend was similar to the Parkways' green and yellow logo.
Attorney JoyAnn Kenny of Red Bank, who is defending the original owners of Jersey Boardwalk Pizza, said the suit is still pending, as is her motion to dismiss the case. Her defense is based on the Turnpike Authority's adoption of national traffic sign standards, which she contends covers the Parkway and Turnpike logo signs.
Attorneys for the authority countered that the Parkway logo isn't in the public domain, because it isn't referred to in those standards, and isn't considered a uniform traffic control sign that's used throughout the nation.
"I was surprised to hear the roadway is moving forward with its own licensing agreement," Kenny said. "I don't believe they could assert a copyright over their own logos."
But this effort has nothing to do with that lawsuit or protecting the trademarked logos, said Thomas Feeney, an authority spokesman. Knockoff Parkway and Turnpike logo items exist now, from t-shirts and hats to a pair of cufflinks made from old Parkway tokens currently being offered on E-Bay. Authority officials already crackdown when they find them. A licensing agent would allow a business to keep making products, if they cut the authority in for a piece of the financial action.
"The Authority already has attorneys who do that. The primary job of the licensing agent would be to develop a program for licensing the logo for use on things like beach towels, tee-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.," Feeney said. "The idea grew out of (Former) Commissioner (Jim) Simpson's directive to find additional sources of non-toll revenue."
The Authority isn't the first state agency to license logos. NJ Transit has earned $116,500 in revenue from licensing its logo for model trains and related merchandise, said Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman. NJ Transit uses an intellectual property law firm, which also pursues infringements, she said.
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority also has a licensing agent and is legendary for pursuing businesses if it believes they are infringing are on its trademarks. The MTA licenses everything from subway line logos on shorts, mugs and Christmas ornaments, to the famous "sky ceiling design" in Grand Central Terminal.
Even some T-shirts sold during the 2000 "subway" World's Series were officially licensed by the MTA, if they bore the image of a subway train or the logos of lines that serve Yankee and Shea stadiums.
The turnpike authority is as protective as the MTA, writing in the Request for Proposals that "the Parkway and Turnpike logos are among the most iconic of New Jersey images."
But if you manufacture it, will they buy? Most of the people interviewed at the Parkways' Cheesequake service area on Wednesday said no sale.
"I probably wouldn't buy anything thing with the Parkway or Turnpike logo, but I understand why (they would hire an agent)," said Josh Ho of Manalapan. "It's their trademark and they want to protect themselves."
A request is on the street for proposals from prospective agents with a Feb. 17 deadline to make proposals. Authority commissioners could vote on it as soon as March 31. This RFP revives a 2012 licensing effort, which was later dropped because officials weren't satisfied with the responses, Feeney said.
"A company already would have to negotiate with the NJTA if it wanted permission to lawfully use the Turnpike or Parkway logos," Feeney said. "An agreement with a licensing agent wouldn't change that at all."
But is there a market for a Turnpike bath towel or Garden State Parkway gardening gloves?
"Maybe for people from out-of-state, I might send them something (with a logo) as a souvenir," said Judy Jones of Little Egg Harbor, adding she wouldn't purchase an item for herself. "They have enough of my money."
The Authority already owns or has applied for the trademark for 19 different variations of the turnpike and parkway logos to be used on t-shirts, key chains, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, beach towels and hats.
"I'd buy a t-shirt, maybe a hoodie," said Nick Lardieri of Edison. "Any extra money they can make is good, it takes away from what we have to pay."
An agent would negotiate the use and licensing of the logos on other products and how much a manufacturer would pay. The agent also has a stake in what the authority earns, since they would be paid based on royalties paid to the authority, under the proposal.
Some toll road drivers said the authority should stick to the business of running the two highways.
"I don't think it makes sense, I think they're reaching," said Terrell Jenkins of Waretown, who added he's not interested in buying official parkway and turnpike merchandise. "What's the benefit? It seems like bad business."
Attorney Kenny also questioned if it's worth it. The authority could open itself up to product liability suits by licensing products bearing its logos, which she said could cost more money to defend against than the agency might earn.
"It just opens up a Pandora's box," she said.