Over the weekend a friend of mine came across a tweet suggesting that Boise State University trademarked non-green athletic fields. Upon hearing this, I knew there was a misunderstanding. So, to confirm, Boise State does NOT own rights to every color for athletic fields.
The initial basis of this article stems from the tweet provided below. The tweet is based on an alleged license agreement between Boise State and Coastal Carolina. Apparently, Coastal Carolina licensed the right to use a teal colored field from Boise State.
First and foremost, you cannot trademark an idea. A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device (a color in this case) that is used in trade with goods/services to indicate the source of the goods/services and to distinguish them from the goods/services of others.
Second, a trademark for a blue field does not extend to non-green fields. Trademark rights prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark.
If Coastal Carolina did in fact enter into a license agreement with Boise State to color their field teal, that decision was likely a result of the simple fact that the field has a bluish tint and Coastal Carolina didn’t want to engage in a legal battle. If the field was red, there would likely be a different outcome.
Ultimately, Boise State has rights to a blue athletic field which arguably extend to any other colors deemed confusingly similar to a blue field. That being said, your average consumer is extremely unlikely to confuse which university is associated with the different athletic fields, and in turn, different teams, mascots, players, etc. However, a more in depth likelihood of confusion analysis is beyond the scope of this article.
Finally, Boise State has an obligation to police its trademark. In addition, they obviously want the broadest rights possible. As a result, the university is obligated and motivated to attempt to assert its trademark rights beyond the extent of the actual trademark.
Boise State does NOT own rights to every color for athletic fields. Boise State owns a trademark to a blue field. However, Boise State will and should try to enforce their trademark to any color field. Next time you hear someone say that Boise State owns the rights to non-green athletic fields, you will know that’s incorrect.