UI contends Hawkeye Hideaway logo infringes UI’s trademark

BY ZHI XIONG | APRIL 10, 2009 7:40 AM

Weeks after Hawkeye Hideaway Pub and Grill opened, an attorney for the UI has asked owner David Moore to give up the black-and-gold color scheme and familiar moniker, contending that it infringes upon the university’s trademark.

“The first thing I did when I got the letter was laugh,” Moore said. “You can’t trademark a color. This isn’t the same font — it doesn’t include the Tigerhawk or Herky.”

But as ridiculous as it may sound to Moore, universities — especially those with successful sports teams — are increasingly willing to risk a Grinch reputation to protect their lucrative logos.

That includes colors, according to a November 2008 lawsuit settled in a federal appeals court. Four major universities, including Louisiana State and Ohio State, successfully sued the company Smack Apparel for making T-shirts with the schools’ colors, game scores, and other decorations.

The schools won roughly $10,500 in damages and banned Smack Apparel from making the shirt designs. The company appealed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision.

“Some may think the UI is beating up on people,” said Vernon Squires, an attorney with Bradley & Riley PC in Cedar Rapids, who is not involved in the case. “But you’re going back to the basic interest of a business — policing the use of its mark.”

A product marked as potentially infringing can generally be confused with the original, he said. Details such as the colors and font can be important factors.

It could be why the local phone book lists more than 50 businesses bearing “Hawk” or “Hawkeye” in their names. Of course, there’s also the state’s third-highest selling vodka brand, whose label features spidery black letters and a hawk that looks nothing like the Tigerhawk.

“Most people wouldn’t expect the university to be a source of alcohol,” Squires said.

Tucked behind Gilbert Street traffic, the Hawkeye Hideaway Pub and Grill, 310 E. Prentiss St., barely had a foothold in the local restaurant scene when Moore received the letter from the UI.

He doesn’t see the parallel between Smack Apparel and his own business. The former makes more than $1.7 million in profit annually, according to Business First of Columbus.

“We just opened a couple weeks ago,” Moore said. “With the debt we have, we probably won’t profit for five years or so.”

At noon on Thursday, Moore faced bills and envelopes strewn across the table. Popular tunes such as “Disturbia” — likely heard in his former establishment, now called 3rd Base, 111 E. College St. — floated past several Hawkeye banners hanging from the ceiling. There were no other signs of the Tigerhawk emblem.

Moore sent the UI a response in which he guessed the university is afraid of a possible association with an establishment that serves alcohol.

But he can’t be sure about the “dry campus” theory. The university has not contacted him since the first letter, dated Feb. 20. UI spokesman Steve Parrott provided a copy, but declined to comment further.

It could just be the money.

“Companies see copyrights as an asset,” Squires said. “They spend a lot of money branding their mark.”

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