Eye on Education

Ohio State Joins Schools Claiming Trademark Infringement on Apparel, Cookies and Vulgar T-Shirts

Court filings

A t-shirt Ohio State claims infringes on its trademark.

Ohio State University makes a lot of money selling Ohio t-shirts and other licensed merchandise, $8.9 million last year to be exact. It doesn’t take kindly to private companies trying to get a piece of that action.

This summer, the school sued a Columbus company called Skreened for infringing on its trademarks by selling t-shirts with football coach Urban Meyer’s face on them, among other things. Michael Gallagher, the lawyer representing the company, declined to comment on the case.

Collegiate licensing is a $2.7 billion a year business, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company, one of the largest collegiate licensing agencies in the U.S. And Ohio State isn’t the only school looking out for its assets.

The University of Kansas was awarded $127,000 in 2008 after suing a local company for selling t-shirts that infringed on the school’s trademarks. Earlier this year, West Virginia University successfully sued a company selling t-shirts with the school’s colors and slogans such as “West F***** Virginia” and “I Only Sleep with West Virginia Fans.” In that case, the company agreed to stop selling the shirts but no monetary damages were awarded.

And earlier this month the University of Alabama sent a cease and desist order to a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bakery selling cookies with a red “A” on them. The school claimed the cookies violated the school’s licensing agreement. (The school later backed down and said it would “allow” the bakery to continue to sell the cookies.)

The Shirts

In the lawsuit filed in July in federal court, Ohio State claims these t-shirts and others sold by Skreened infringe on the school’s trademarks:

The t-shirts in question also include this one featuring football coach Urban Meyer, who has signed over his name, voice and face to Ohio State for trademark purposes:

None of the t-shirts appear to be for sale on the Skreened website.

Cease and Desist

Ohio State trademark and licensing director Rob Cleveland told the Ohio State Lantern that the school has sent out about 150 “cease and desist” letters regarding alleged trademark infringement over the past two to three years:

Cleveland said OSU did not file a lawsuit three years ago when the infringing designs were initially discovered, explaining that “we don’t want to be in court. Ninety-five to 96 percent of the time when we send out a cease and desist, it turns out they will be resolved.”

Those Colors

Even a school’s colors can be protected under federal trademark law. A 2008 federal appeals court ruing found that school colors in combination with other elements such as team names qualify for legal protection under trademark law.

However, one interpretation of that ruling is that it allows companies to continue to sell t-shirts that ”taunt the opponent” rather than “extol the virtue of a college,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

That suggests it’s possible for companies to continue to sell shirts like this, minus the Ohio State logo, of course:

Kafka4prez / Flickr


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