Iowa State University Defends Trademarks


Iowa State University is defending its trademarks against two students over the use of the university’s “Cy the Cardinal” mascot on t-shirts.

The saga began in 2012 when the Iowa State University chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) wanted to make some t-shirts to raise awareness of legalization of marijuana in Iowa. The group originally sought, and was granted approval, from the university’s trademark licensing office to use the Cy the Cardinal on t-shirts with the slogan ‘NORML ISU’ and a marijuana leaf. However, the t-shirts were featured in a photo and accompanying article that appeared in the Des Moines Register, which sparked outrage by alumni, citizens’ groups, and elected officials with regard to student support of marijuana at the state-funded university.   The university responded by prohibiting the group from making more t-shirts with the Cy the Cardinal trademark.

Back in July, two student leaders of the group filed a suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa claiming that the university violated their free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, when the university forbade the undergraduates from using the Cy the Cardinal logo on the t-shirts.

Now the university is striking back, with the Iowa Attorney General asking the court to dismiss the claims, based upon the university’s right to defend its trademarks. The Attorney General’s office argued that, “a trademark holder may prevent use of its marks that could confuse an observer about the source of political speech on a purchasable t-shirt and whether the trademark holder sponsored, endorsed, or is otherwise affiliated with that speech.” The Attorney General also argued that the students had plenty of alternative means of getting their political speech across in ways that did not violate the university’s trademark rights.

If you have questions about trademarks, or just wanted to discuss your options for handling potential litigation against competitors, you need an experienced Georgia business lawyer. Attorney James J. (“Jim”) Thomas II has more than 35 years of courtroom experience in the Atlanta area, and has represented professional athletes, teams, and leagues, as well as many other individuals and businesses. Jim is a business litigation expert who can handle complex business litigation as well as analysis, evaluation, and resolution of existing and potential litigation including trade dress claims. Give Jim a call at 404-869-5248 or visit online.

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