MTA jackassery

This is ridiculous: The MTA is suing a Brooklyn bagel shop, claiming it is violating the MTA’s trademarks. The shop, F Line Bagels in Carroll Garden, has a subway theme, based on the nearby F train.

Now, the original point of trademark law was to protect consumers, and by extension trademark holders, by avoiding marketplace confusion. If you’re Milton Hershey, marketing your new chocolate bar, you don’t want some fraudster to copy your name and package design to sell inferior chocolate. And if you’re a consumer who happens to enjoy Mr. Hershey’s product, you’d like to know that you’re buying the real thing, not some cheap knockoff.

So, tell me MTA: How is a subway rider likely to confuse F Line Bagels with the nearby Smith-9th St. subway station? Especially since F Line Bagels appears to be much prettier and cleaner than any Brooklyn stop along the F line?

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6 thoughts on “MTA jackassery

  1. How is that even possible? Isn’t trademarking fairly specific in that you _can’t_ claim infringement on something that is completely dissimilar from your product? Or am I making that up?

  2. Obviously, I ain’t no lawyer, but if the “infringing use” is for a business that’s completely unrelated and the name chosen is fairly generic, I think courts generally dismiss such lawsuits. (For example, a hair salon named Dell might be okay, but a salon named Hewlett-Packard might be a problem.)

    The issue here seems to be that the bagel shop has chosen names and images specific to New York City Transit. The sandwich chain Subway is clear because “subway” is a generic word and aside from old maps and newspaper articles, most Subway shops don’t have specific NYCT stuff in them.

    Even so, this is still preposterous. How on earth could a bagel shop do harm to the MTA or its riders?

  3. I’ve actually been thinking about it. Yeah, I’m bored. But I do see the MTA’s point. It isn’t that people will walk into the deli and look for the stairs down to the trains, it’s that they could infer from the name, logo and assorted things that the deli is affiliated with the MTA.

    Let me continue with your previous example. Now, if I own a used car lot, and I call it “Hershey’s”, that’s probably not a problem. But if I call it “Hershey’s” and use the same font, and white lettering on chocolate brown and the slogan “Where you’ll find a sweet deal on a used car!” then I’m obviously trying to use some of the candy companies cache, I AM trying to associate myself with them, whether to bring in customers or just because I like the theme (which I think is probably more the case with F Line Bagels). Now, it’s certainly possible that some people will look at my “trade dress” and assume I’m associated with Hershey’s Chocolate. Then if I sell them a lemon, they might not buy Hershey’s Special Darks anymore.

    Similarly, if someone got food poisoning from something at F Line Bagels, it isn’t totally unbelievable that they would blame the MTA. For something that isn’t the MTA’s fault for once, even.

  4. I can certainly see that side of it, and I think it has some validity. However, the fact that the MTA is now apparently working with the bagel men to license out its imagery dampens that point a little, since presumably now the MTA will be sanctioning the use of the its look by the bagel dudes

  5. I think it’s more likely that the MTA wants to exploit its symbols and fonts on merchandise (I see quite a few NYC subway T-shirts around here) — and they don’t want anyone else to do it. I bet if this bagel shop stumped up some cash, they wouldn’t complain.

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