UI tells 17 entities to stop using Tigerhawk logo


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Kathy Harp proudly displays a Tigerhawk logo outside her office. But according to University of Iowa officials, that’s a problem.

That’s because Harp’s Tigerhawk doesn’t represent the UI.

It represents the Pleasant Grove School District in Texarkana, Texas, which received a letter from Dale Arens, the director of the UI’s Trademark Licensing Program, telling the district to discontinue its use of the logo as it violates the UI’s trademark.

“I hate that we can’t use it anymore,” said Harp. “We loved that hawkhead.”

The school district told Harp she has a year or two to take down the logo so she’s in no hurry to remove it.

Harp’s school district is one of 17 entities throughout the country, including restaurants, brewing companies, candy shops, and high schools, to receive such letters from the UI between June and October 2010. The Daily Iowan received copies of the letters through an open-records request.

Arens said the unauthorized use of UI trademarks, word marks, and logos is a very common issue. He sends similar letters throughout the year as UI alumni, faculty and even other universities bring potential infringements to his attention.

There are no circumstances in which the University of Iowa would allow another organization to infringe upon university trademarks, he said, noting the issues often arise due to an “ignorance” of trademark law rather than a legitimate attempt at theft.

Representatives from Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa said the schools’ licensing departments also have to deal with enforcing their trademarks.

Walter Weller, a principal at Seminole High School in Seminole, Fla., said his school never intended to steal the Tigerhawk. The school had been looking for a streamlined logo to use for its Warhawk athletics teams, and a faculty member Weller described as a “fanatic” UI alumnus suggested the Tigerhawk.

“It was not used to steal,” said Weller. “It was a sign of respect from a proud alum — an attempt to continue the spirit of the University of Iowa.”

Similarly, when employees of Sandbar Mexican Grill in Scottsdale, Ariz., hung banners and posters bearing the Tigerhawk logo to promote an upcoming event, they were not aware they were infringing upon the university’s trademark, said the restaurant’s general manager, Noel Edwards.

The Sandbar often hosted members of the Phoenix Iowa Club, a group of UI alumni located throughout the Phoenix area. Upon receiving its letter from the university, Edwards said the Sandbar opted to simply use the club’s logo — a hawk wearing sunglasses. He said never heard any complaints regarding the change.

“They knew we were fudgin’,” he said.

UI law Professor Randall Bezanson said the university has three primary reasons to protect its trademarks, even when the infringement could be considered a minor one.

First, the university benefits financially by licensing its trademarks to organizations that wish to use them. Second, by controlling the license, the university can protect its image in the event an entity tries to use it inappropriately. Finally, if the unauthorized use of a trademark is allowed to continue without objection, the university could be seen as waiving its rights to the trademark altogether, said Bezanson.

Furthermore, while the university cannot trademark obvious or general things like combinations of colors, as long as the university holds a valid trademark that is upstanding and enforceable, it can stop anyone from using its trademarked items.

“It’s an issue that I can’t imagine will ever go away,” said Arens.

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