March Madness always brings about trademark enforcement-related news. What we generally don’t see is news about a participating school submitting trademark applications while the basketball tournament takes place. But according to numerous articles last week, including this one in the Baltimore Sun, the University of Maryland Baltimore County hadn’t sought trademark registrations prior to securing the first upset of a #16 seed over a #1 seed two weeks ago. After that historic victory, however, the University asked attorneys to file trademark applications for the phrases “16 over 1,” “UMBC Retrievers,” and “Retriever Nation”—which the Baltimore Sun poignantly characterized as capitalizing on the University’s “skyrocketing commercial cachet.” Given the immediate increase in university bookstore apparel sales, the University’s quick response to that newfound cachet is more than timely.
Contrast UMBC’s recent trademark enforcement efforts with those of Iowa State University, which we’ve previously covered on this blog. As a reminder, Iowa State University had refused to continue to license university trademarks to two of its students and their chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws because the organization was using the university’s mark on pro-marijuana t-shirts. That dispute raised issues of the interplay between trademark licensing principles for public universities and students’ First Amendment rights, the latter of which the federal court found was trump. Last week, in addition to the $150,000 emotional distress damages and $193,000 in legal bills already awarded, the judge approved another $598,208 in attorneys’ fees and costs, bringing the total cost to state taxpayers to almost $1 million.
These quite varying anecdotes serve as a reminder that it isn’t just public and private companies that think and care about trademark enforcement—universities do too, even if they’re late to the party.