The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 28, 2013

UA fights to protect trademarks despite costs

Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA — University of Alabama officials say the school has issued 153 cease and desist letters in the past decade to businesses and people accused of selling goods that violate the school's trademarks.

The school defends its trademarks so vigorously to avoid the risk of losing them, University Athletics Director Bill Battle said.

"We have students, alumni and fans in every state in the United States and more than 70 countries throughout the world. That means that the Alabama brand has a presence in all of those areas. As the exposure grows, the opportunities for mischief grow and so does the need to ensure that our brand, our name, and our trademarks are used appropriately and in keeping with our values," Battle said in a statement.

The school owns the rights to 36 different words, phrases and logos, including "U of A," ''Bama" and "Alabama."

"I do understand you need to vigorously defend your trademark if you want to keep your trademark," said Mary Cesar, a baker who was told to stop selling cookies with the university's signature "A'' on them. "I don't know how you can own the word 'Alabama.' (University officials) told me it's as it relates to football. So can I put Alabama on a cookie as long as it relates to the state but not football?"

Cesar had been selling University of Alabama-themed baked goods for years and was sent a cease and desist letter in August 2012. The Collegiate Licensing Company, which licenses UA products and represents 152 schools, wanted documentation of how many items Cesar had sold so that damages could be collected.

The school spent about $1.4 million in an eight-year lawsuit against an artist, saying depictions of football players' uniforms were a trademark violation. A federal judge dismissed the case in September.

The athletics department pays legal costs associated with trademark suits and no state funds or tuition money is used in those types of legal proceedings, said Deborah Lane, a school spokeswoman.

According to the Collegiate Licensing Company, University of Alabama merchandise is the second most popular, behind only the University of Texas.