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Little Scottie #90 / Talking Shirt (4/2/10)

A local store closes after losing a trademark infringement case.
A local store closes after losing a trademark infringement case.
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Fri, Apr 02, 2010 - UDK, Page 4A
If you're in the Lawrence, Kansas City or Topeka area, then you likely know that this is based on an actual situation, culminating in the Joe-College T-shirt store going out of business two days ago. For those of you who don't know, the closing follows a 2008 federal lawsuit from Kansas Athletics and The University of Kansas, accusing the store of trademark infringement. The court ultimately ruled against Joe-College and has ordered the store to pay Kansas Athletics $127k for damages and more than $667k in legal fees.

Even now, I'm still torn. I have no problem with a small business trying to get a small piece of the pie and have a little fun in the process. But Joe-College does not deserve to be a martyr for free speech. The issue at play has nothing to do with free speech.

Neither side ever looked good. KU looked like the big bad corporation picking on the little guy while Joe-College was the little guy picking fights with the big kids just to show off his bruises. The only difference is that KU had no choice, a fact seemingly absent in public debate and media coverage.

Like any trademark holder, KU and Kansas Athletics is bound by law to police the use of its trademarks. If they don't, they risk losing their claim to the mark.

I, for one, like the fact that there is an approval process for non-institution use of marks like the Jayhawk logo. I like that an entity, no matter how big or small, has the right to protect the symbols, images and phrases that comprise its public identity. In an ever-expanding marketplace of images, ideas and institutions, the value of a brand has never been greater.

Anyone in business should know this, including the owners of Joe-College. And clearly they did. Every shirt they sold had their logo on it somewhere. WIth the store being only a short walk from campus, KU simply could not give them a pass even if they wanted to. Neither party could have claimed ignorance. Unfortunately for Joe-College, the law simply isn't on their side.
Scott A. Winer / Writer, Little Scottie

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