Any new venture presents certain intellectual property risks. For example, if you create a new and innovative product, it is a good idea to perform patent prior art searches to check out the competition. Not only will the prior art searches inform a decision on filing a patent application, but also you can pivot to a different idea if a potential infringement issue pops up. The same is true for branding issues and trademark law – it can be very easy to infringe another’s trademark without proper vetting. This week, the University of Connecticut (UCONN) accused a Florida school of trademark infringement.
Some organizations treat trademarks as an afterthought. However, most successful entities pursue broad intellectual property protection as soon as feasible. To that end, UCONN owns at least thirty active federal trademark registrations for various word mark and logos.
One of the trademark registrations protects a husky logo; importantly, the registration does not include color, meaning that the registration covers any imaginable color arrangement.
UCONN Accuses Florida Middle School of Infringement
That brings us to this week – UCONN put Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Florida, on notice for trademark infringement. Westglades Middle School’s wolf mascot differs from the UCONN registration in color; however, the logo itself is virtually identical to UCONN’s husky registration. While schools and sports teams commonly use husky, wolf, and other animal logos, some variations must exist. If not, trademark infringement issues arise in which a likelihood of consumer confusion exists. For example, a third party could easily believe an association exists between UCONN and Westglades Middle School based on similar logos. As such, the Florida school must change its logo to avoid any confusion.
Trademark owners have the responsibility to police their marks. To that end, UCONN had no choice but to put the Florida school on notice of trademark infringement. On the other side of the coin, Westglades Middle School would have been in a better position having performed trademark searches before selecting a logo. Now, the school must rebrand to the new logo shown here. Now, Westglades Middle School can look into filing its own trademark application on its new logo.
(Image obtained from https://www.browardschools.com/westglades)