FSU: Marks are distinctive to school

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

CONYERS -- Florida State University officials said changing times forced them to contact Salem High School, as well as four other high schools, to prevent them from using the university's trademarks.

"When the emergence of a high school licensing agency was announced a few years back, universities began to research schools that may be using their marks," said Sherri Dye, trademark licensing director at FSU, on Tuesday. "The issue of high school use of college trademarks has become a concern to many colleges and universities recently. A new nationwide licensing program for high schools launched by Licensing Resource Group in partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations, will make possible the protection and monetization of high school marks."

She said in addition to campus school stores, online retail stores and national retailers recently have been selling high school merchandise.

"As with most colleges and universities, the primary motivation to establish these licensing programs is not initially to make money, but to protect the ownership of their marks and to control how they are used," Dye said. "This presents a problem when a high school is using a mark that belongs to someone else."

Additionally, she said the visibility of high school marks has been increased through nationally televised games, Web sites and social media.

"That did not exist when collegiate trademark licensing programs first began (and) caused colleges and universities to take a second look at their policies," Dye said.

Further legal concerns arise when a school doesn't defend its brand, potentially eroding the integrity and diluting the strength and distinctiveness of the marks, Dye said.

"Florida State University in particular has one of the most distinctive and unique marks in the nation, as well as a particular reverence surrounding their relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida," she said.

Salem High School opened in 1991 using the Seminoles as its mascot. Originally, SHS used a different logo and at some point over the past several years switched to the current logo with an Indian head and spear that looks similar to the FSU logo.

In August 2010, FSU contacted the five schools using their trademarks.

"The purpose ... was to make each school aware of our concern with their unauthorized use of our trademarks and to open a discussion to cooperatively design a plan for the schools to phase out use of our marks," she said. "Since that time we have had amicable discussions with each school and are in the process of working out phase-out plans."

According to the agreement between Salem High and FSU, Salem High must discontinue use of the Seminole head design mark, the lady Seminole head design mark, the spear design mark and the words "Seminoles" and "noles" when it is not used with the school's name. The agreement was reviewed and negotiated by school board attorney Jack Lance; it was approved last week by the Rockdale County Board of Education with two members opposing it.

"We have no objection to the schools remaining the 'Seminoles' when they include the name of their school with it and they are not using our trademark with it," Dye said.

Salem High has 30 days to remove the restricted items from its Web site and publications. It has until Aug. 1 to remove them from the football helmets; until Aug. 1, 2016, to remove them from the campus walls and floors and from all athletic uniforms; until Aug. 1, 2019, to remove them from all band uniforms; and until Aug. 1, 2012, to remove them from baseball caps. They can use their stationery until it's exhausted.

The agreement also affected Memorial Middle School, which also has the Seminole as its school mascot. It has to remove prohibited items from its Web site and publications within 30 days and from its school crest by Aug. 1, 2014. It too can use stationery with the items until it's exhausted.

School Principal Tonya Bloodworth said Wednesday that her school was focusing on Georgia High School Graduation Tests this week, and school officials plan to begin discussions on moving forward next week.

Cindy Ball, director of Community Relations, said if RCPS had to make all of the requested changes within 30 days, it would have cost an estimated $50,000. However, Lance worked out the agreement so that costs are nominal to the school system over a period of time -- decals on the helmets will be replaced when they are refurbished each summer and varsity sports uniforms generally are replaced every three years.

Lance said it could cost RCPS about $250,000 to defend a federal trademark lawsuit.