Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Copyright Infringement?

Posted on April 11, 2011 by


Last week Inside Higher Ed published a story about how Syracuse University had “quietly filed for a federal trademark on the word ‘orange'” back in 2006.  This and “a similar but broader filing” went unnoticed by other universities who use the color until the latter part of 2010.

Late last year, though, several colleges that use orange as one of their main colors for sports, marketing, and the like caught wind of the trademark filing. Feeling threatened — and in many cases believing that Syracuse’s assertion of trademark applied to the color, as well as the word — they moved to protect their own. Since February, seven colleges have filed varying forms of opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. At least two more have communicated directly with Syracuse about the trademark application, but did not file formal opposition.

Syracuse’s nickname is “Orange,” shortened from their previous moniker “Orangemen” that they had dropped in 2004.

Luckily Syracuse is not in a litigating mood with other colleges who either bear the color orange or use the word on their campuses.

This time around, Boise State got an extension but ultimately did not end up filing an opposition. “Syracuse has indicated that they didn’t file this to stop any of us from using our marks,” said Rachael Bickerton, Boise State’s trademark licensing and enforcement director. “We’re comfortable that we will be able to reach a resolution without having to spend money on attorneys opposing it.”

Pacific took the same route, though its student athletics “spirit section” calls itself the Orange Army, and members have worn T-shirts with the name printed on them to games. But Richard Rojo, executive director of Pacific’s marketing and communications office, said he did not anticipate any quarrels with Syracuse. “Our approach right now is to just work directly with Syracuse’s counsel and see if we can just establish an agreement that serves University of the Pacific’s ability to use the color orange and the term orange,” Rojo said. “We don’t expect that Syracuse is going to have an issue with that…. There are other issues that they’re trying to deal with.”

McGuire said that negotiations are coming along and that Syracuse expects to have agreements worked out within the next month or two. The resolution, which has been drafted around a past (but too institution-specific) version Tennessee wrote during a separate, previous dispute, will indicate that these universities can work around Syracuse’s trademark so long as they make clear that their products are related to their own institutions – not to Syracuse.

Though the issue seems resolved, it brings up questions about how far higher ed institutions can go in protecting their intellectual property.  Where does the line reside, and when can a university be too zealous with what they believe they rightfully own?

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