Jeffery Zucker Quoted in The Star-Ledger About Mister Softee Settlement Effects

by Joe Ryan/The Star-Ledger
Tuesday February 10, 2009
Mister Softee, the iconic purveyor of gooey swirl ice-cream cones with rainbow sprinkles settled a federal lawsuit today, forcing an upstart competitor — Danny’s Soft Serve — to repaint its trucks and find a new jingle.

Filed last summer, the suit was part of an annual crackdown against companies illegally using Mister Softee’s smiling trademarked logo and sprightly theme song.

“They do it all the time,” said Jeffrey Zucker, the company’s attorney.

After all, ice cream is big business.

Mister Softee, based in Camden County, is a multimillion-dollar outfit with more than 600 blue-and-white trucks that each summer troll neighborhoods in 15 states from New York to Nevada. Mister Softee even sells cones in China.

Each truck is privately owned and pays the company royalties of between $3,000 and $3,500 per year for the right to display the cone head logo and sell Mister Softee trademark products, like “Tu-Tone Cones” and “Twinkletop Coneheads.”

And then there is the theme song.

The nine-bar ditty was composed in 1960, four years after the first Mister Softee truck debuted on the streets of Philadelphia to give away green ice cream on St. Patrick Day. It has become part of the soundtrack of summer, beckoning children to the curb with its jaunty cadence and driving adults batty with its cloying rhythm.

New York City tried unsuccessfully in 2007 to ban it. And knock-off ice cream trucks have for years tried to copy it, Zucker said.

Mister Softee began its campaign against impostors about eight years ago. The company uses private detectives, surveillance and stings to catch trucks illegally playing the song or displaying the Mister Softee logo, a grinning swirl of soft serve wearing a red bow tie.

“We call it the cone head,” Zucker said.

A hired gumshoe videotaped Danny’s Soft Serve selling ice cream from a familiar-looking blue-and-white truck parked outside a Newark school, according to the suit, which was filed in federal court in Trenton.

After months of litigating, Danny’s agreed to repaint the truck and find a new tune. The company also said it would pay $4,000 in legal fees, Zucker said. A lawyer for the company did not respond to telephone calls.

And so ends Mister Softee’s latest wave of legal battles. But summer is 129 days away. And Zucker said Mister Softee plans to be on the lookout for knockoff cone heads and carbon-copy jingles.

“This year — if we have to — there will be a new wave,” he said.

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