Of the four types of intellectual property that exist in the United States, trademark is probably one of my favorites to look at because: 1) it is the most straightforward in its interpretation and 2) none of its conflicts can lead to controversy that has a huge impact on people. According to Wikipedia, a trademark “is a recognizable sign, design or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others.” As can be interpreted from the definition, trademarks are used to protect a brand, and the only people affected by conflicts in trademark are those enforcing their brands. With that said, there are some cases where trademark can affect a larger group of people than expected, and that is exactly what happened here on our college campus a couple of years ago.
The University of Delaware is a large school as we all may or may not have noticed, and big schools have big events. One of the big events of the school year at UD is the Homecoming football game. Every year thousands of students and fans fill the stadium to watch the Fighting Blue Hens take on their rivals. As with any large event, it is natural that people will want their own attire to wear to identify themselves with the event. This is where Benjamin Goodman and Adam Bloom come into play.
First, some background. In 2011, Goodman and Bloom worked together to make and sell shirts that read on them “U can suck our D” for Homecoming. Their shirts took off, and the duo made over $12,000 in profits. Due to their huge success that they had with 2011 Homecoming, the decided to do it again in 2012 and ramp things up a bit.
This is where the issue begins. They had ordered 2,000 shirts, 500 sunglasses and 500 cozies all sporting their slogan of “U can suck our D”. Before they even went ahead and placed the order, Goodman and Bloom checked with Venture Development Center to make sure that what they were doing was allowed. They didn’t want to drop a lot of money on an expenditure that would be denied by the school. When they visited, Goodman and Bloom were told that “as long as they did not use the schools trademarked interlocking U and D logo, the shirts were fine”.
Due to this information, the two went ahead and placed the order on their merchandise. They were ready to sell it when they got a cease and desist letter from the university claiming that legal action through the university would be taken if they sold the merchandise. The University of Delaware did not want them to distribute the goods in order to protect their brand, which we all know that the university is actively working to improve. Due to legal threats from the university, Goodman and Bloom did not sell the merchandise and were out thousands of dollars. Feeling they were violated of their right to free speech, Goodman and Bloom sued the university.
This issue here has good points on both sides, and I understand where both parties are coming from. I feel that the university failed in guiding Goodman and Bloom in the right direction. The Venture Development Center should have worked more closely with the Trademark office to let them know ahead of time that what they were planning on doing would not have been okay with the university. At the same time, it was pretty blatantly obvious that the shirts and merchandise they were trying to sell closely resembled the U of D logo and even referenced Homecoming right on the merchandise. As we know, UD is having issues getting the U of D logo federally trademarked, even though its pretty different from the University of Dayton’s logo. Goodman and Bloom should have been aware that it was likely the university would not be okay with their design. The University had every right to enforce its brand and did nothing wrong with telling the students to not sell the merchandise. However, I don’t agree that they threatened to take disciplinary action on them through student contact. It should have been dealt with outside of the universities judicial system just like any other dispute with trademark.
Overall, it is both parties that are to blame for this dispute. I feel the blame falls slightly more on the school for not being more organized with their efforts to enforce their brand, but they were not in the wrong for doing what they did. The University of Delaware and the students settled out of court, and hopefully both parties learned a lesson from this incident.
O’Sullivan, Sean. “Pair Sues Del. College over ‘U Can Suck Our D’ T-shirts.” USA Today. The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.
“Trademark.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.
O’Sullivan, Sean. “The News Journal Crime & Courts Section.” Delaware Online. The News Journal, 9 July 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.