(CN) – A clothing company violated four universities’ trademarks by selling T-shirts that used the popular football teams’ color schemes and specifically referred to celebrated games, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled.
Smack Apparel Company and owner Wayne Curtis infringed the trademark rights of collegiate football powerhouses Louisiana State University, University of Oklahoma, Ohio State and University of Southern California and gave the impression that the schools endorsed the shirts by using words like “we” in messages on the shirts, the 5th Circuit ruled. In referring to college bowl championships, one shirt design includes the message, “Got seven? We do.”
“Smack did not win any national championships – the respective universities did,” Judge Reavley wrote. “The use of the inclusive first-person personal pronoun ‘we’ easily permits the inference that the schools are the speakers in the shirts and therefore endorsed the message.”
The court affirmed summary judgment against Smack Apparel, ruling that the concept of color is not too broad under trademark laws, especially since the universities have used their respective color schemes since the late 1800s.
“Smack did not hope to sell its T-shirts because of some competitive difference in quality or design compared with the universities’ licensed products,” Reavley wrote, “but rather it intended to take advantage of the popularity of the universities’ football programs and the appearance of the school teams in the college bowl games.”