Each year the University of Iowa Athletic Department licenses the Hawkeye brand to more than 600 companies, who use marks like the black-and-gold tiger hawk logo to help sell everything from t-shirts to toothpick holders. In return, the university receives royalties of nearly $4 million dollars, making the Hawkeye brand one of the 15 most valuable brands in collegiate sports. 

On November 20, 2014, the Intellectual Property Law Society and Sports Law Society jointly hosted a panel discussion on how the university protects the Hawkeye brand.  Dale Arens, who heads the university’s licensing program, spoke about the legal dimensions of his office’s three-part mission: to protect the Hawkeye brand, to promote the Hawkeye brand, and to profit from the Hawkeye brand.  Gay Pelzer, the deputy general counsel for the university who works with Arens, and Alex Johnson, an associate at Hamilton IP Law who worked with Arens while a law student at Iowa, also participated in the panel discussion.

The conversation ranged from business considerations to the enforcement of trademark protections, the review process for licensees, and the University of Iowa’s dispute with University of Southern Mississippi (Southern Miss).  In a recent opposition to Southern Miss’s attempt to register a golden eagle logo, the University of Iowa argued that Southern Miss’s logo was confusingly similar to Iowa’s tiger hawk logo, a mark that predated that of Southern Miss. As evidence, the university submitted consumer surveys showing confusion and also evidence of licensee confusion. Pelzer noted that Iowa retailers like Scheels had mistakenly received Southern Miss-branded clothes instead of Iowa-branded clothes. “If your licensee is confused, consumers are probably confused,” Johnson added.  In 2011, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found that the Southern Miss logo was too similar to Iowa’s logo. Earlier this month, Southern Miss unveiled a new logo.

Iowa students can view the panel discussion on Panopto

--Jay Stirling | December 3, 2014