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Updated: 33 min 25 sec ago

Apple trademarks store layout, genius idea dries up

Mon, 2014-07-14 01:00

Another one of my genius ideas has just bitten the dust.   

A headline hit the news wires that that Apple can have a trademark on the layout of its stores. Obviously, Apple has a trademark on the fruit-shaped logo that’s on its stores. Now, a court in Brussels says that the design of the store itself is a trademark, meaning it’s a sign: If you see a retail layout with a lot of white and glass, flat tables with electronics gear and a Genius bar, then that tells you it’s an Apple store -  not a lingerie store, a plumbing supply store, or a Samsung store.

It turns out Apple already had a trademark on its store layout in the U.S. This is sad for me because I had a fabulous concept that was going to make me rich. What about setting up a Genius Bar that serves drinks? It would feature, wait for it, the Apple-tini. (Note to Apple lawyers: that’s a joke, just a joke. My grandfather owned a bar in Brooklyn but I have no plans).

The story of the Apple store is interesting because it highlights the different ways people can protect their creations in an economy increasingly driven by intellectual property. Apple’s store layout isn’t an invention, so it wouldn’t get a patent. Apple’s store layout is not a tangible expression of a work of authorship, like a book, a photograph, or a song which could get copyright protection. In America, a trademark is a phrase, a design, or words that distinguishes Apple stores from another store. And these things can be worth a fortune.

At the dawn of the Internet when I was hosting Marketplace, I got sick and tired of the overused metaphor to describe the emerging web. It was “information superhighway” just about every time. Every innovation was an “onramp to the information highway,” or a glitch was a “broken down truck on the information superhighway.” So I asked Marketplace listeners to suggest an alternative metaphor.

Back then, one (genius) listener had a fabulous suggestion. Instead of the information superhighway, why not call it the ELVIS: The Electronic Linkage for Video and Information Services? So I mentioned this listener suggestion on the radio, as a joke.  Ha, ha, one Marketplace listener wants to call the information superhighway the ELVIS instead.

And as night follows day, Marketplace received a cease and desist letter from Elvis Presley’s lawyers, warning us that this would violate the King’s intellectual property. At one level? Give me a break, this wasn’t a going concern we were calling The ELVIS, it was a line in a listener response segment of a radio show. On the other hand, maybe they were smart to write the letter, because calling the Internet The ELVIS was the kind of very clever idea that could have had legs. Mind you, this was in 1994 - way, way before people were pumping video through the Internet. That was a listener with some serious foresight.

What are other creative ways people have used intellectual property law?  The top NBA draft pick from a couple of years ago, Anthony Davis, got a copyright on his unibrow. Obviously he didn’t invent the concept of eyebrows that flow together, so he couldn’t patent it. He didn’t compose the unibrow symphony, so copyright wouldn’t work. But when it comes to distinguishing himself from other sports figures, the “basketball guy with the unibrow” was judged to be a way to distinguish his brand from the competition.

Take the quiz below to see if you can guess which signature sayings and brands are trademarked. var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "is-it-trademarked", placeholder: "pd_1405330315" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Tech IRL: The 'right to be forgotten'

Fri, 2014-07-11 15:54

Citizens in the European Union can ask to be removed from search engines if the results are "inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive." Google recently removed a news article from the BBC due to one reader's complaint. Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O'Leary and Ben Johnson of Marketplace Tech look at what that means for individuals in the EU and themselves. Could the decision lead to a slippery slope of censorship?

Click play above to hear Lizzie and Ben discuss what the ruling means

How Eileen Ford made modeling a real profession

Fri, 2014-07-11 13:13

You might not recognize the image of Eileen Ford, who died this week at the age of 92. But you surely know some of the faces she made famous: Christie Brinkley, Naomi Campbell and Elle Macpherson, to name just a few.

She also made them rich. Ford and her husband Jerry created Ford Models, which was for decades the most influential modeling agency in the world.

When they launched the enterprise in the 1940s, modeling wasn't really a business. Some held it in low regard.

"First of all models were one step above showgirls and showgirls were one step above prostitutes," says Michael Gross, author of Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women.

Gross says Jerry and Eileen Ford made modeling a true profession and revolutionized how models were paid, by setting up a fee structure.

"A model would take a picture, but her pay depended on how that picture was used. So if it was used in an ad she would get one check. If it was used in a tag hanging off a dress she would get another. The Fords were amazing at doing that and at raising the daily rate and the hourly rate of models," he says.

Gross says by the 70s models were pulling in as much as $100,000 per fashion show. Today, supermodels like Naomi Campbell make millions.

Some of Ford's discoveries went on to big successes in other professions, including media mogul Martha Stewart, who was a Ford model in the 1960s.

Despite the fact that Eileen Ford built an empire, she regarded herself as a woman of limited talents, which she wryly noted in a documentary.

"Let me point out to you that I have absolutely no talent. I could only do one thing. I could find models," she said.  

Ford Models is no longer owned by the family, but it's still big in the business of multi-million dollar faces.

Big companies help small ones by paying them sooner

Fri, 2014-07-11 13:07

President Obama has announced a new initiative meant to help small businesses. It's called SupplierPay and it’s designed to get big companies to pay their smaller suppliers faster. 

The White House says 26 companies — including big guys like like Apple and Coca-Cola — are participating in SupplierPay.  They’re promising to pay the small businesses they hire for parts or services more quickly, ideally within 15 days.  That sounds like heaven to small business owner Rexanne Metzger. 

Now, she says, “There’s a very few corporations that will pay in 30 days.  It’s more like 45 days.”

Metzger is president of Davis Interiors, in Norfolk, Virginia, which makes custom interiors for Navy ships. They're a supplier for the big defense contractors, but she’s had to take out a line of credit to cover her bills.  Even if those companies paid her just a few days faster, she says, it would provide some relief.

“It does help because then we don’t have to pay that interest on our line of credit," she explains.  "Every day that we don’t get paid costs us money.”

Small businesses across the country are feeling the pinch of late payments.  Janet Sanders sees it every day.  She’s CEO of Incom Direct, which helps small businesses process credit card payments. Sanders says now, her average client needs the day’s charges fast.

“At the end of the day he wants those electronic transactions converted to cash as quickly as possible – put back in his bank account," she says.

Big companies have been taking longer to pay their small suppliers since the recession.

“It’s free money, basically,” says Charles Mulford, who teaches accounting at Georgia Tech. 

Mulford says big corporations are taking 35 to 40 days to pay, a few days more than before the economic downturn.  He understands why they do it.

“The larger companies can essentially borrow from the smaller companies and not pay interest, in effect,  on that money,” he says.

Will the president’s SupplierPay initiative help?  Mulford says that’s not clear.  But at least it’ll call attention to the problem. 

INTRO: Small businesses play a vital role in the economy.  Creating nearly two out of every three new jobs in the US, according to the White House.  When they hurt, the rest of the economy suffers.   So today President Obama today announced a new initiative meant to help the little guys.  It’s called SupplierPay.  And it’s designed to get big companies to pay their smaller suppliers faster.  Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

 

 

MARSHALL GENZER 1

 

Twenty six companies are participating SupplierPay.  Big guys like Apple and Coca Cola. They’re promising to pay the small businesses they hire for parts or services quickly.  Ideally within 15 days.  That sounds like heaven to small business owner Rexanne Metzger.  Now…

 

ACT REXANNE METZGER :05

“There’s a very few corporations that will pay in 30 days.  It’s more like 45 days.”

 

MARSHALL GENZER 2

 

Metzger is president of Davis Interiors, in Norfolk, Virginia.  They make custom interiors for Navy ships. Working as a supplier for the big defense contractors. She’s had to take out a line of credit to cover her bills.  She says, even if those companies paid her just a few days faster, that would help.

 

ACT REXANNE METZGER  :07

“It does help because then we don’t have to pay that interest on our line of credit.  Every day that we don’t get paid costs us money.”

 

MARSHALL GENZER 3

 

Small businesses across the country are feeling the pinch of late payments.  Janet Sanders sees it every day.  She’s CEO of Income Direct, which helps small businesses process credit card payments. Sanders says now, her average client needs the day’s charges, fast.

 

ACT JANET SANDERS :08

 

“At the end of the day he wants those electronic transactions converted to cash as quickly as possible – put back in his bank account.”

 

 

MARSHALL GENZER 4

 

Charles Mulford teaches accounting at Georgia Tech.  He says this is a trend.  Big companies have been taking longer to pay their small suppliers since the recession.
ACT CHARLES MULFORD :02

“It’s free money, basically.”

 

MARSHALL GENZER 5

Mulford says big corporations are taking 35 to 40 days to pay.  A couple days more than before the economic downturn.  He understands why they do it.

 

ACT CHARGLES MULFORD :08

 

“The larger companies can essentially borrow from the smaller companies and essentially not pay interest on that money.”

 

MARSHALL GENZER 6

Will the president’s SupplierPay initiative help?  Mulford says that’s not clear.  But at least it’ll call attention to the problem.  In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

 

Newports and Camels are a smoking combination

Fri, 2014-07-11 13:07

The second-largest cigarette maker in the U.S., Reynolds American, is trying to acquire the third-largest cigarette company in the U.S., Lorillard. The deal speaks volumes about the current and future state of the tobacco industry.

While smoking has declined in the U.S. (18 percent of adults smoke here), the U.S. remains a major profit center for the tobacco industry – while it accounts for only 5 percent of volume, it produces 14 percent of all revenue globally. Tobacco firms have been raising prices to offset declining demand. Consolidation helps cut costs, and a duopoly could make raising prices in the future even easier.

Also factoring into the deal: Lorillard owns Blu e-cigarettes, a market leader in a small but persistent cigarette alternative. Finally, Lorillard also owns menthol-flavored Newports. Premium menthol-flavored cigarettes like Newports are the one area of the industry where sales are flat or barely declining, and Newports have very strong brand loyalty.

If the cigarette industry is slowly burning out, Reynolds is buying a few extra years on its life.

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

The U.S. Highway Trust Fund is running low on cash

Fri, 2014-07-11 12:49

The federal Highway Trust Fund runs out of money at the end of the month. It's been paid for by gas taxes since 1993, but raising taxes is a tough political sell, and right now Congress can't agree on what to do about it.

Meanwhile, Jersey City, NJ is in the middle of a construction boom.

Those two things may seem unrelated, but Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop says if the fund runs out of money, it could put the kibosh on the growth.

And to understand, it’s important to take a look back at the recent history of Jersey City.

“If you go back two decades, this was an example of urban decay,” Fulop says. “Most of downtown was rail yards. And if you go back twenty some odd years, they were giving these brownstones away. This was actually the most financially and economically challenged portion of the city that we're standing in right now.”

Now, construction cranes tower above the city in almost every direction.

 “We're going to overtake Newark as the largest city in New Jersey, and I can comfortably say that the 20 largest buildings in the state will be in Jersey City in the next four years,” Fulop says. “We're building 54 stories, 60 stories, 70 stories, another 55 story, I mean I could go on and on. And if you walk down here you'll see the cranes, and activity, and people working … those are generally concentrated around mass transportation.”

Building around mass transit has been a cornerstone for Jersey City. And a good portion of the money that goes towards mass transit in the state comes from the Highway Trust Fund. In New Jersey, the average person pays about $600 per year in those taxes.

Fulop says if that money were to dry up, then contractors, developers and others in the building industry would lose faith in future funding and slow down – or stop – ongoing projects.

“And once they stop, they’re hard to get back started,” Fulop says.

The Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956. It's been funded by gas taxes, but the tax isn't tied to inflation, so it's gotten less bang for its buck since the 90s. And like many things in Congress, the trust fund is a fight. Conservatives say the program is bloated, and needs to be reformed. But Mayor Fulop, a Democrat, doesn't see it that way.  

“At the end of the day, it's a partnership between federal, state and local,” Fulop says. “And anybody who says that government doesn't have a role in building infrastructure is an absolute moron. I don't know how else to say it.”

Right now, there are a couple plans to pay into the fund lasting until next Spring, but no long term solutions have been agreed upon.

I Can't Believe I Bought That: Cat edition

Fri, 2014-07-11 12:47

This story comes from our Tumblr museum of regret: I Can't Believe I Bought That

I HAVE A BLACK BELT IN THE ART OF BUYER’S REMORSE

For me, the statute of limitations on not feeling stupid about a purchase is never. Many is the time I have ordered plumbing parts online or electronic do-dads on Ebay, only to find out they were close but not, in fact, compatible. One purchase, however, soars high above the rest in provoking a shattering sense of self-loathing, buyer’s remorse to the twelfth power, or as Edith Piaf never sang, “Oui, je regrette.”

Back when Otis was a little kitty, my spouse Mary and I were wandering a pet store when a curious contraption caught our eyes. It was a kit that promised to teach the cat to use the toilet, meaning the actual toilet bowl. If this thing worked there would be no more cat litter, no more scooping, just a dainty flush now and again. This, of course, would be the answer to a dream.

I remember Mary being appropriately skeptical but game to give it a shot. She figured at $19, or whatever it was, the purchase would be worth the risk. I, by contrast, was all in, fully convinced this was the $19 that would change everything.

Inside the plastic wrap of this kit we found two items: a step-by-step instruction sheet and a stiff piece of cardboard the size of a toilet seat, embossed with a series of concentric circles like the elevation lines of a low-resolution topographical map. The concept was this: we were to lay the cardboard flat on the toilet and in the initial phase of training, place a cluster of kitty litter in the middle of the platform so Otis would get the idea. Over time, once the cat got used to doing his business on this cardboard and porcelain perch, we would tear out the inner-most circle of cardboard to make a hole. Next, we waited a few more days and as kitty got more comfortable, we were to progressively enlarge the hole by stripping out ever-widening rings of the cardboard. Eventually, like the grin on the Cheshire cat, all the cardboard would be gone, leaving just the maw of the toilet upon which kitty could balance, let ‘er rip and be done.

Here was the problem: The cat was having none of this. When we tried to gently place him on the cardboard, he flailed in that "Are you out of your freaking mind?" way that cats get. When we finally lulled him into giving it the old college try and he accomplished the initial leg of his mission, we celebrated. This just might work.

Then I made an error that put the word “cat” into “catastrophic.” With Otis still nosing about the bathroom, I hit the handle on the commode. It was one of those high-pressure, low-flow toilets that goes beyond flushing and seems to detonate with pyrotechnic ferocity. The cat was alarmed. I was alarmed. The cat would forever associate the toilet with the explosion of flushing and that was that.

Perhaps with a different toilet, different humans or a different cat, the experience would have been different. I sincerely hope that others have found success with the kitty kit. But to this day and every single day, we are reminded of this one purchase. The memory is triggered every time we clean a cat box, enveloped in the acrid stink of buyer’s remorse.

Weekend Brunch: CYNK, the Fed, and potato salad

Fri, 2014-07-11 12:22

This week, Lizzie O'Leary sits down for brunch with New York Magazine contributing editor Jessica Pressler and Business Insider's Executive Editor Joe Weisenthal to discuss the economic news of last week and what's on their plate this week (get it?).

Topics:

Forbes: The meteoric rise of penny stock CYNK

Time: What the minutes of the last Fed meeting say about the economy

The Daily Beast: How one man raised thousands of dollars in the quest to make potato salad

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