The owner of the Brookfield-based company Mold-A-Rama has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court, asking for unspecified monetary damages and claiming a Georgia man had harmed the Mold-A-Rama brand by trying to sell modified machines that retain the trademarked Mold-A-Rama name.
Paul Jones, president of Mold-A-Rama Inc., filed the suit in December against Bruce Weiner, a private collector of coin-operated machines and a Canadian company called Collector-Concierge-International, which Weiner used to offer his modified machines for sale.
Jones declined to comment on the lawsuit because the matter was still pending.
The lawsuit was filed after Jones attempted to get Weiner to stop marketing the machines under the name Mold-A-Rama, which included emails to Weiner’s agent at Collector-Concierge- International and a cease-and-desist letter from Jones’ attorney.
William Jones, Paul’s father, got into the Mold-A-Rama business in 1971 when he bought his first machines.
The colorful, molded plastic souvenirs – ranging from zoo animals and dinosaurs to historical figures, buildings, submarines and antique vehicles — have been popular since they were introduced to the public in 1962 at the Seattle World’s Fair.
In time, the company operated by William and Paul Jones would become the largest operator of Mold-A-Rama vending machines in the Midwest, boasting 60 machines, all built prior to 1970. The company acquired the trademark in 2007.
The company has had Mold-A-Rama machines at Brookfield Zoo for more than half a century and at other Chicago locations, including the Field Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Willis Tower.
Mold-A-Rama machines owned by the Brookfield company can also be found at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in Saint Paul, Minnesota; the Henry Ford Museum outside of Detroit; the Milwaukee County Zoo; and at the San Antonio Zoo in Texas.
Nostalgia is part of the attraction to the Mold-A-Rama machines, which inject molten plastic into a metal mold, use air pressure to form the plastic inside the mold and cool the plastic before the mold opens and a spatula-like device shovels the souvenir into a dispensing bin.
The lawsuit notes that the souvenirs are “coveted collector items” that sell for “tens and even hundreds of dollars.”
In the lawsuit, Jones argues that because of the internal changes Weiner made to his machines — replacing the original 1960s technology with modern components — Weiner’s machines no longer qualify as genuine Mold-A-Rama machines and can’t be marketed as such.
“After purchasing the machines, Weiner materially altered the machines by replacing integral components of the machines with modern, non-Mold-A-Rama parts,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, the machines owned by Mr. Weiner are no longer Mold-A-Rama vending machines. Instead, the machines are new products.”
Weiner’s continued use of the Mold-A-Rama name to sell his machines “is likely to cause confusion as to the sponsorship, affiliation or source of Weiner’s machines,” the lawsuit states.
Compounding that confusion, the lawsuit alleges, is a video – now since taken down from the internet – on the history of Mold-A-Rama that Weiner produced to help market his machines.
The video reportedly illustrated that history by referring to the Brookfield company’s machine at Lincoln Park Zoo. In addition, a Facebook post advertising Weiner’s machines for sale calls them “original but fully restored.”
Unless a court restrains Weiner and Collector-Concierge-International from using the Mold-A-Rama trademark, says the lawsuit, they will “continue to cause a likelihood of consumer confusion, mistake and deception and irreparable injury to Mold-A-Rama’s reputation, goodwill and sales.”
A call to Weiner’s attorney, Michael Scotti, was not returned.