UI: California high school must phase out Tigerhawk logo

BY SAM LANE | NOVEMBER 18, 2010 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa is, once again, at the center of a trademark controversy.

Murrieta Valley High, a 2,500-student school in Murrieta, Calif., has been using the UI's Tigerhawk logo — only in red — for all 20 years of its existence.

Last week, the high school received a letter from UI officials saying its use of the logo was an infringement of the university's trademark on the symbol.

Dale Arens, the director of the UI's Trademark Licensing Program, said this is "not a new story," noting that he sends letters to high schools six to 10 times a year.

"A good way of saying it is, if we wanted to open a hamburger joint, we wouldn't put two golden arches on the top of it," Arens said.

He doesn't actively seek these situations, he said, they're typically brought up by university alumni.

Arens spoke to Renate Jefferson, the high school's principal, on Monday and requested that the school phase out the logo. Arens said the university usually allows schools to gradually remove the logo instead of requiring officials to get rid of it immediately.

Arens said he can't imagine the university asking a high school to pay to use the logo as opposed to asking it to remove it.

Murrieta, whose mascot is the Nighthawk, has begun forming a committee to determine "which way they're going to go," said Karen Parris, a district spokeswoman.

"There was never any intent on the school's part to infringe," she said. "We certainly want to do things legally."

Already, Parris said, the school's athletics director has begun using a different version of the logo for one team's future apparel order.

The school uses several different logos, but the Tigerhawk is the primary one, Parris said. The image, on top of the letters "MV," makes up the design on the 50-yard-line of the school's turf football field. The school uses the mascot because nighthawks have been seen in the Murrieta area.

"Certainly the school and the community love the logo and are attached to it," Parris said. "I'm sure there will be some regret."

While Arens has contacted several schools about the logo, one continues to use it with the UI's permission.

City High, whose nickname is the Little Hawks, has always used an adaptation of the UI's logo, even before the university adopted the Tigerhawk, said Larry Brown, one of the school's former athletics directors. He said the high school received permission from someone in the UI's legal office. Arens said the logo is acceptable because the proximity allows UI officials to monitor the use.

"In today's world, I think everything is basically trademarked," he said.

UI law Professor Herbert Hovenkamp said the issue is customer confusion. Typically, he said, a jury would have to decide if a logo or color is so similar a customer could confuse it with the UI's.

The Tigerhawk first appeared on the Hawkeyes' helmets in June 1979, according to the athletics department. New football coach Hayden Fry wanted a new symbol for the Hawks, and Bill Colbert, the art director of a Cedar Rapids advertising firm first sketched the Tigerhawk on a napkin..

The UI's tangle with the California high school isn't the only trademark issue officials have had recently.

In the spring of 2009, officials told a local restaurant, Hawkeye Hideaway Pub and Grill, to stop using the black-and-gold color scheme because it infringed on the UI's trademark.

This past spring, the UI got into a legal battle with Madison County Winery over black and gold labels on bottles of wine called "Iowa Gold."

And last fall, UI officials told the beer giant Anheuser-Busch to stop producing "fan cans," beer in black and gold cans.

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