Blue Highway Signs & Patent Notifications Update
April 28, 2014
Dear WH&LA Lodging Member:
We have some good news regarding two separate issues at the state level that WH&LA has been actively engaged in.
SIS Program (Blue Highway Signs) The state Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced that their negotiations with the new vendor for the state Specific Information Signs (SIS) Program is completed with the new program running from May 1, 2014 through April 2024 (10 years).
WH&LA had sent an earlier notice regarding the communications sent by the former vendor to many lodging properties upon learning that they had lost the bid. They had claimed that prices would go up more than 50 percent and many jobs would be lost in Wisconsin due to the DOT selecting an out of state vendor. We had communicated with the DOT Secretary as well as the DOA Secretary noting our industry's concerns and had heard back from both that the negotiations would keep the concerns in mind and due process was being followed, which we also shared in an update to members.
The DOT is pleased to share the following:
- There are no rate increases. The 10-year fixed rate fee structure does not provide any price increases for businesses currently in the program or who join the program.
- The selected vendor (Interstate Logos) will contract with in-state businesses for services, to ensure that jobs are in state.
- There will be improvements in the quality of signs, maintenance of the signs, and in customer service.
- They will be enhancing the marketing opportunities available.
While there was no elaboration on the last point, and what type of expansion/enhancement will occur, we do know the DOT was looking for this opportunity during the bidding process. When we learn more, we will share this with you. The bottom line is that there is a long-term stable pricing mechanism, and committed improvements that will be good for the lodging industry participants.
Patent Notification Law Passed Wisconsin is now one of the first states to pass some protection against unscrupulous individuals and companies using "Patent Notification" letters to scare businesses into paying settlements, when the threats have no basis. SB 498, introduced by Sen. Paul Farrow with the Assembly companion bill introduced by Rep. Adam Neylon, and was signed into law last Wednesday by Governor Walker.
Starting initially as a rapidly growing problem in Texas, the sending of Patent Notification letters to lodging properties, in addition to other types of businesses, continued to grow in other states, including Wisconsin. For lodging properties, the claim was patent infringement relating to wi-fi services provided to guests. Minimal information regarding the basis of their claim was provided in the letters, however there was always an opportunity to settle for a suggested fee of a few thousand dollars offered.
SB 498 requires certain documentation and explanations to be included in all patent notification letters, authorizes the state Consumer Protection Agency to oversee complaints, provides for penalties for illegitimate use, and even allows for punitive damages. This package will not only serve as a deterrent for these notifications, but also provides a course of action should any continue.
WH&LA supported this bill, and assisted in prevention of a last-minute effort to derail the bill before the legislature adjourned. We also were invited and participated in the bill signing by the Governor last week.
Further updates will follow on other issues in the near future.
Contact: Trisha Pugal
Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association