What’s in a Name?

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey does not need any more scandal.  However, there is still the small matter of people making money on the “World Trade Center” trademark. 

When One World Trade Center opens next year, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey will pay thousands of dollars to use the “World Trade Center” trademark on merchandise celebrating the return of the iconic landmark. The reason — the agency sold the naming rights for $10 dollars in a secret deal that took place over thirty years ago.

The curious transaction is now the subject of media scrutiny and a government investigation. It came to light after The Record made a request to obtain the contract under the Freedom of Information Act. It turns out the Port Authority sold the trademark to the World Trade Centers Association, a non-profit organization established by former Port Authority executive Guy Tozzoli.

While it is not yet clear if any laws were broken, it certainly was not a good deal for the Port Authority. Trademarks are one of the most valuable intangible assets owned by an organization. By way of comparison, Google’s trademark is valued at approximately $44 billion.

The Port Authority is now the one forced to pay up. Under the terms of the 1986 contract, the Port Authority pays $10,000 a year to use the trademark. When the new building opens, the WTCA is requesting free office space valued at over $500,000 per year in exchange for a license to use the “World Trade Center” mark.

“I am gravely concerned that a secret deal, years ago, sold the name of the World Trade Center for 10 bucks,” said the Port Authority’s deputy executive director, Bill Baroni. “And I’m going to look into the initial contract and look into where we are today with regard to this organization.”

The Port Authority has yet to identify who approved the contract. In addition to the agency’s own internal investigation, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman also launched his own probe into the deal and has reportedly already issued subpoenas.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.