Who owns the name World Trade Center?

Who owns the name World Trade Center?

A trademark is symbol or phase that is used to indicate to consumers who produced a product.  The purpose of trademark law is to prevent consumers from being tricked into buying inferior quality products.  Trademark owners are granted the exclusive right to use a trademark in commerce so that when a consumer purchases a trademarked product, the consumer can be sure they are purchasing a quality product.

Trademark protection is not limited to products on store shelves.  A trademark can be applied to just about anything that is sold, such as real estate services.  Businesses will pay a premium to locate their offices in a building with a prestigious name.  Many cities around the world have buildings which are called World Trade Centers.  Some people may think that the term World Trade Center is descriptive of the activity which goes on inside the buildings, but the name World Trade Center is actually a trademarked phrase.

The World Trade Centers Association, is a nonprofit group that charges its members an initiation fee of $250,000 and annual dues of $12,500 for the right to name their building a World Trade Center.  As of today the World Trade Centers Association has more than 300 members.   A member of the association gets an exclusive license to develop and operate a World Trade Center in the member’s region.

One of the most iconic examples of a building called the World Trade Center was located in New York City.  That building is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  The Port Authority does not agree with the World Trade Centers Association and has been engaged in a trademark lawsuit since 2015.

The controversy surrounding the name started with an employee of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Guy Tozzoli.  Mr. Tozzoli worked for the Port Authority while the original World Trade Center in New York City was being built.  In 1987 Mr. Tozzoli purchased the trademark rights to name World Trade Center from the Port Authority for $10.  Since then the annual revenue of the World Trade Centers Association has grown to about $6 million per year.

When the Governor of New York learned about the absurdly low sale price of the name World Trade Center he demanded an investigation.  The investigation by the New York State Attorney General concluded in 2015.  No criminal charges were filed but the World Trade Centers Association returned 20 years worth of membership fees to the Port Authority and granted the Port Authority the right to continue using the name World Trade Center for the New York City building.

The World Trade Centers Association then sued the Port Authority in September 2015 for trademark infringement for selling miniature models of the New York World Trade Center, which had the phrase World Trade Center.  The case is World Trade Centers Association, Inc. v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey  1:15-cv-07411 (N.Y.S.D 2015).  The Port Authority attempted to get the case dismissed but failed.  The trial has concluded and now it is up to the judge to determine who owns the name World Trade Center.

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