It is no secret that universities have become big brands doing even bigger business. You are also probably not surprised to hear that alumni pride for nearly every well-known university is just as big.
But SUNY’s lawsuit against two former students is an illustration of when alumni pride may just cross the line.
SUNY Gives Alumni Business a Crash Course on Trademark Infringement
Two SUNY alums have been doing business as Triple O Entertainment for the last seven years, promoting events surrounding the university’s own calendar of events. Triple O Entertainment regularly advertises events using university trademarks and sells unauthorized merchandise with the trademarks on them. The State University of New York decided to show these alumni what it means to play with the big boys.
First, they sent a cease and desist letter. When this garnered no response, SUNY decided to seek greater consequences. They filed a trademark infringement suit against the pair of alumni, alleging their promotional efforts create “a false impression of connection with the public university system.” Based on the 40-plus instances of infringement cited in the complaint alone, Triple O certainly seems to be profiting from its efforts.
You should not need a law degree to realize that, as a business owner, you simply cannot use another entity’s trademarked logos and other intellectual property without consent and profit from it. There are many ways to work with the brands you want your clients to associate with your business. You just have to put in the effort to do so.
Even If You Make a Mistake, There are Still Options
It is possible the two alumni in question really did not understand the implications of their actions. Or that they thought the university would not notice.
However, when SUNY sent them the cease and desist letter, it was clear that the university did notice. At that point, Triple O still could have saved themselves some significant legal trouble.
The business owners would have been wise to hire an experienced trademark attorney the second they got that letter. They may have been able to navigate something along the lines of a licensing deal to restore what could be a valuable relationship for both parties. Technically, this is still possible, but the lawsuit makes that option more difficult and expensive. At this point, Triple O needs to work hard to get in the good graces of SUNY and learn how to continue their business while working within the bounds of trademark law.
Have questions about associating your budding business with bigger, more well-known brands? Reach out to IP attorney Crystal Broughan at Marks Gray.