Trademark Case Study: Penn State
The sport industry is no stranger to trademark law. Successful athletes and universities have adopted strict policies in order to protect reasonable revenue streams from dilution or compromise. While the extent of registered marks between universities varies, Penn State rests among the more extensively defined of institutions with comparable licensing programs. In the process, the storied athletics department has made exemplary consideration for avenues of trademark loss and justification of legal right, defining an extensive and articulate code of usage that is of note to any organization in pursuit of similar integrity in protection.
At its heart, trademark veracity is dependent on distinctiveness. Failure to account for or define what sets one mark apart from all others can lead to forfeiture of registration through litigation or difficulty in enforcing legal privileges. In this way, Penn State’s code represents an excellent template for like efforts of distinction in registration.
Pennsylvania State University has established a well-defined brand image through years of athletics success. In this way, it is at first important to capture the essence of this brand when filing for registration. To this end, the school identifies specific Pantone colors for usage in logos and athletic uniforms. To further clarify their usage, they specify a primary shade and a secondary shade; the latter used for accents and mascot uniforms. This clear specification prevents reproduction that could cause dilution.
Graphically, the university makes explicit the geometry and colorization of marks for reinforcement of their distinctiveness. The text logo of the athletics program is printed in all capital letters in both a light and dark format, while the graphic logo is listed next to it with the same color variations. Furthermore, the specifications include that the text and graphic logos “must always be the same color”, leaving no room for interpretation and protecting identity in the process.
Additional consideration is made for the alternative marks. A shield bearing the “nittany lion” is used with the year of founding below and specifications are made for a light outline around the dark shield when used on a dark background. In addition, the text is set to a specific font with an aesthetically pleasing alignment that catches the eye and bears little breathing room for infringers.
Even lesser marks, still intrinsic to the identity of the university, are listed. The center-circle of the hockey team is registered, along with the appearance of the school mascot. The youth program is given its own registration with distinct typeface and cartoon representation of the school mascot. Even the iconic uniforms of the storied program are protected with a side and front view of the helmet.
In following with rising trends in registration of verbiage, the licensing documents provide specific mention of key phrases to prevent dilution or slander. Among these, “The Pennsylvania State University”, “Penn State”, “Nittany Lions”, “Nittany Lion”, “Lady Lions”, “PSU”, and “PS” stand out as obvious choices to those knowledgeable of the team’s background. But further accommodation has been made for “Blue Band”, “The Nittany Lion Inn”, “LinebackerU”, “Success With Honor”, “Iron Lion”, “Hockey Valley”, and, curiously “S”.
In addition to these exhaustive specifications, the licensing program makes mention of university marks with additional rules in order to protect its academic brand and reputation. The school seal is listed in three color variations with the ability to reproduce in any color, though not within another shape, isolated of the outer border, or bearing any other alterations. These specifications permit some flexibility, but not at the expense of the distinctive elements of the mark, crucial in an era when minor alterations can greatly affect viewer perception.
Use of a graphic representation of the nittany lion is listed as well. A front view is shown in both standard configuration and mirrored view. Side views of the lion are shown both in solid color and shaded forms, with differing orientations taken into account. Finally, a shield with the lion head and a banner bearing the name of the mascot is specified “for non-apparel use only”.
In addition to extensive graphic registrations, the licensing program makes clear their usage restrictions and permissions. The organization permits the university seal on products for resale, and offers licensing opportunities for consumables, health and beauty products, numbers on products for resale, and display with other marks. The documents prohibit intersecting other graphics with the university seal and caricatures of the school mascot, along with references to elicit substances, alcohol, tobacco, and religious holidays when using official logos. Finally, imagery of specific campus landmarks are protected, including Beaver Stadium, Old Main, and Bryce Jordan Center.
While these measures may seem over-wrought, or even excessive, doing so puts the university on solid footing with trademark law. By registering specific logos, colors, and orientations, the school establishes distinctiveness. By specifying particular phrases in all their iterations, the program protects its verbal trademarks from slight but significant alteration. Finally, explicit licensing guidelines and myriad other considerations construct a trademark picture that is as watertight as it is useful. Those wishing to register their trademark would do well to examine these documents and take note; understanding the complexities and subtleties of trademark law is key to leveraging and holding essential trademark rights in present market circumstances and as infringers emerge.