Football Helmet Logos: Newest Place for Trademark Lawsuits
The Washington Post picked up on a story that could become more and more prevalent in the coming years: High schools around the country using trademarked University logos. It seems that many high schools are using the logos of college teams, sometimes with similar color schemes for their own teams. Meanwhile, universities are increasingly reaping the benefit of licensing fees for these similar logos. Now I have written on this blog in the past about rights-holders being able to control their rights should they wish. However, I believe in this case, the universities are definitely a little off in their pursuit of licensing dollars.
The article mentions that some schools, such as Kansas State University, allow the use of their “Power Cat” logo for a discount, so long as the color scheme is not the red and blue of their rival University of Kansas. However, many other schools have either flat out denied use, or have required high schools to only use contracted vendors to supply equipment and souvenirs bearing the logo.
Where I have trouble with this scheme is it seems contrary to the intent of trademark laws in the first place. While the marks are distinctive, at least to most sports fans, the confusion in the marketplace that trademark law hopes to address does not seem to be prevalent in this instance. Is a consumer going to be confused when Kansas State’s logo is attached to a high school t-shirt? I highly doubt it. Nor is it likely that even dilution of the logo is possible. Are sports fans and alumni of a university going to feel the brand is tarnished if a high school uses the logo? Again, not likely. While there are legitimate concerns about protecting licensing deals in order for fans to purchase authentic souvenirs and to prevent any company from making bootleg t-shirts and caps, the threat of a high school using the logo seems very far down on the scale of threats to the university.
Universities should be open to the possibility of nominal licensing fees, along the lines of the $1 Florida State charged a school in the article, or just allowing the use at the high school level free of charge. It is a shame that high schools that pose no threat to the market share of the university’s apparel face the possibility of shelling out substantial sums in order to have a logo for their sports teams.