Thursday, July 14, 2011

Public transportation/highway trademarks such as E-ZPass and perhaps SmartCard work; MN shutdown affects Coors

On a recent trip from northern Virginia to New England, I used E-ZPass (link) for the first time, and found that it worked perfectly.  (No matter, Friday’s deluge made the southern section of the NJ Turnpike a parking lot for a while.)  It does seem that “E-ZPass” works the way a trademark should. I bought it from a website in Maryland for the Cross-County connector, got a Virginia-labeled device, and found that it works in all states that I tried, including New York and New Hampshire.

But, in fact, E-ZPass isn’t used in all states, mainly in the east. Here is a FHA chart

According to USPTO, the trademark (and associated “property rights”) belongs to the (non-profit) Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for use in any state.

It seems to me that the same concept should be tried with SmartCard for transit systems. One electronic card could work in all subway systems. Right now, Washington DC uses SmartCard, and New York City uses MetroCard. Why not have a system with just one card, and a trademark that means “use in any mass transit system”, including the parking lots.  Legally, the ownership claim to a national mark for this name could be complicated.  (Here’s a basic website)  USPTO shows many marks now.

The idea could give IT companies like EDS some business.  A entity does not need to be “for profit” to have a trademark.

Here’s another tidbit: Miller Coors had to stop selling beer in Minnesota because the state government shut down over a budget battle and the state could not process its brand application.