At most public universities, student organizations are permitted to license various university trademarks to designate the organization’s involvement with the university and the organization’s status as a registered student organization. My colleague Chris Beall previously wrote blog posts here and here about a dispute stemming from this practice that involved the First Amendment, Iowa State University, two of its students, and their chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (“NORML”). As a reminder, the case involved Iowa State University’s refusal to continue to license university trademarks to NORML because the organization was using the university’s mark on pro-marijuana t-shirts. The federal district court, and later the Eighth Circuit (twice), ruled in favor of the students, finding that the First Amendment trumps normal trademark licensing principles for public universities and that Iowa State University violated the students’ First Amendment rights.
According to the Des Moines Register last week, the State of Iowa agreed to pay $150,000 to the two students as emotional distress damages and $193,000 in legal bills to their two law firms. But apparently this agreement only resolves attorneys’ fees related to the Eighth Circuit aspect of the parties’ dispute, not the district court work for which the students plan to request an additional amount in attorneys’ fees from the court.
As my colleague previously wrote, this case stands as an important reminder that trademark licensing principles are different for governmental organizations because of the overarching constraints of the First Amendment.