Behind the Tennessee logo, website glitches

The $46,000 Tennessee logo.
photo The $46,000 Tennessee logo.

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Feds say Tennessee can't trademark embattled new logo

NASHVILLE - The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected - at least for now - granting a trademark to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's beleagured state logo.

Maybe it's just as well.

Because the state has also been having problems rolling out its new, redesigned and improved website where the much-criticized TN logo will be prominently featured.

The revamped website was quietly rolled out the weekend of June 5-6. It went up, briefly. And quickly went down. The site was too sluggish, some say. Web techies have been furiously working to fix problems ever since.

Administration officials were said to be looking at making another attempt to go live with the website Friday night.

All of this, of course, is far from what the Haslam administration intended. Haslam has had to defend the $46,000 logo after critics ranging from Republican lawmakers to Facebook commenters lambasted the design by a Nashville firm as childlike, out of focus and a waste of taxpayer money.

State Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden - perhaps smarting that Haslam vetoed two of his bills this year - tried to link the logo to Haslam's effort to build a case for new road funding through a possible gas tax increase.

"Some say this isn't a big deal," Holt said in a news release about the logo.

"I present to you, the gas tax. The very fact that legislators are being lobbied to raise the gas tax on Tennesseans when $46k worth of taxpayer dollars were spent without even consulting a trademark lawyer is disgusting, irresponsible, abusive and out of touch."

This week the Tennessee Beacon Center, a free-market research institution/advocacy group, gave the logo its "Pork of the Year" award. And the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said the administration can't register the logo because it is "primarily geographically descriptive of the origin of applicant's services."

But Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor plans at this point to battle for his logo. He said "some back and forth" is typical in a trademark application, "and I anticipate we'll submit an amendment."

And the kerfuffle has kept attention off the in-house woes with the central website redesign.

Haslam's staff was in little mood to discuss the situation. Smith referred a reporter's questions on what went wrong and when it would be fixed to Finance and Administration spokeswoman Lola Potter.

"As Gov. Haslam said last week," Potter said in an email, "we are working on a new web design and hope to have it online soon."

Left unanswered were questions about the troubled rollout and what went wrong.

Transportation Commissioner John Schroer inadvertently let the glitch out of the bag to the Times Free Press on June 11 during an interview about the new TN logo and the interface with the redesigned website.

Schroer noted that the attempted website rollout on June 5-6 "didn't happen."

"[T]hey got some kinks they got to work out. So at some point in time they're going to roll it out and they'll have the new logo on it," he said.

While Schroer didn't know what the technical problems were, state government sources said that when the new platform went up, it was found to be operating too slowly. So it was taken down and now, two weeks later, still isn't up.

One element of the redesign aimed to make it easier for departments to post new content. Right now, they have to go through a webmaster or designer, a cumbersome process.

The conservative Tennessee Watchdog obtained an intra-departmental memo from the Department of Environment and Conservation that explains the problem in rich detail.

The project was being handled by the Office for Information Resources, which saw as soon as the site went up that it was running very slowly, the TDEC memo states.

"To avoid creating negative first impressions for visitors, they decided to pull the new site down and review all applications and databases to see what may be causing this slowness (latency)," the memo added.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.