What's the Blue Oval worth? A big chunk of $1.5B

For thousands of motorists the Blue Oval is just another hood ornament whizzing by on an expressway.

But for Ford, there is real money being mined in that famous trademark beyond the grille of a new Explorer or F-series pickup.

Ford, as Forbes.com reported this week, has a thriving $1.5 billion business licensing the Blue Oval and various corporate trademarks for video games, clothing, die-cast car models and other merchandise -- even pool tables.

That's up a staggering 50 percent from $1 billion a few years ago.

So it was no understatement this week when high-fives busted out of the Glass House in Dearborn, Mich., after the second of three credit-rating agencies lifted Ford debt out of the junkyard, allowing the automaker to recover full rights to the Blue Oval and other assets.

Ford surrendered the Blue Oval as collateral for the first time ever when it secured $23.5 billion in new financing in 2006. Bankers aren't dumb when they are putting staggering amounts of money on the line. Default on those loans or go bankrupt, and you cough up the logo and all of its riches.

Ford's financial turnaround has been well documented but the intangibles are making the difference in the automaker's recovery.

Ford granted about 18,000 product approvals in 2011, up from about 15,000 just two years ago.

Ford has roughly 400 licensees today, up from about 300 in 2004, Forbes said. The automaker granted about 18,000 product approvals in 2011, up from about 15,000 just two years ago.

The "Built Ford Tough" slogan was recently licensed for clothing at Forever 21, the clothing retailer. A Ford line of Tervis Tumblers debuted at Bed Bath & Beyond last year.

But it's the Blue Oval that has recovered the most.

John Nens, Ford's brand lord in charge of licensing and corporate identity, told Forbes that the Blue Oval has raced ahead of the Mustang and "Built Ford Tough" on the wish list of licensees.

For corporate giants such as Ford, licensing is simple. Use it to build the brand. Then to protect the brand.

All told, Forbes says retailers sold about 45 million pieces of Ford-branded merchandise last year, up from about 40 million pieces just five years ago.

Not shabby for an automaker some investors left for dead just a few years back.

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