New Jersey residents may be familiar with the online retailer CafePress. The company sells t-shirts, coffee mugs, bags and many other products that feature a huge variety of designs and customized logos. Apparently, it has been selling merchandise featuring Ohio State University-themed designs, and OSU is not happy about it.
OSU filed a lawsuit against CafePress, alleging that CafePress infringed on its trademarks and violated its publicity rights. The university wants CafePress to stop selling merchandise decorated with pictures of its head football coach, 'Buckeyes" and 'O-H-I-O." Urban Meyer, the head football coach at OSU, gave the university permission to use his image on merchandise in May 2012. The plaintiff's complaint alleges that CafePress sold products that appeared to be endorsed by OSU, even though they weren't.
Trademark infringement lawsuits like the one filed by Ohio State have become more common in recent years. Universities are increasingly looking for revenue by leveraging the value of their brand. A professor of marketing at Ohio State's Fisher College of Business said that OSU's brand is one of the most valuable brands among universities, and the university makes a lot of money selling merchandise to fans of its football team. Just like the university protects itself against counterfeit tickets, it also protects its brand against counterfeit merchandise.
A company that has a highly valuable brand may have to take actions to protect its brand from competitors. An attorney may be able to help a company to apply for trademark registration and take legal action against parties that infringe on the trademarks. In many cases, these incidents can be resolved outside of court by sending cease and desist letters.
Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "Ohio State accuses CafePress of trademark infringement," Tim Feran, Nov. 4, 2016