A Little Uneasy After That Bagel

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Feel a little uneasy, a little hopeful, and a little more knowledgeable after reading this terrific essay by Susan Kirkland: Proctecting Intellectual Innovation. It’s of particular interest to designers who are doing complete branding packages, doing everything from the look and feel of the client’s product or location, to everything else, like logos, uniforms, business cards, etc. Interesting to know the limitations, even when they seem so impossibly distant or absurd. Here’s a bit of it:

Last year, three guys in NYC transformed a vacant storefront into F Line Bagels, using props, color scheme, and icons familiar to any subway rider as a draw to passing traffic. They put their heads together (and their money and sweat) and made their store look like a clean, modern subway car with hanging straps, straddle poles and Euro-style signage. They used the almost generic symbols of a single san serif character in an orange circle–the same signs subway riders use to pinpoint stops. They added 2 neon signs for a heads-up to transit seekers too preoccupied to notice they were entering a space clearly not on tracks and incapable of moving them to any destination short of the nearest bagel. If you’ve ever been in a NYC bagel shop, there are big clues everywhere that you are not in a subway car; the aroma of hot baked goods, big bins of fresh baked bagels, and the flurry of activity as the paper bags are whacked open in the air. Try to get a bagel for a token–can’t be done.

About a month after they opened, a lawyer for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) stopped by, told them to cease and desist; that their atmosphere (the tiles, the straps, the signs) was the authority’s intellectual property. In fact, the authority found itself fending off questions about whether it was in the bagel business. True, the store owners bought their props from the online store operated by the MTA, “but this did not entitle them to display the items for commercial use” without agency permission. I wonder just how much a hanging strap contributes to the value of a bagel.