An Affair of the Heart, the annual arts and crafts show that has been an Oklahoma City tradition since 1985, became a legal battleground in late October, when representatives of the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University allegedly arrived to confiscate merchandise that bore OU and OSU emblems.
At least 15 vendors filed “larceny of merchandise” complaints against two women armed with business cards identifying themselves as the OU director of brand development and the OSU director of trademarks and licensing. Reportedly, up to about $4,000 worth of merchandise ” much of it handcrafted ” was seized from individual vendors. Oklahoma City police Capt. Steve McCool said none of the vendors was given an itemized list of what was taken, so the exact value of the confiscated merchandise is unknown, according to The Associated Press.
The state universities ” like their counterparts across the nation ” have established procedures to license their trademarked logos to manufacturers of athletic gear, clothing and other consumer items. The licensing fees can provide a significant source of additional income to the institutions. For example, following a Bowl Championship Series football national championship, the University of Texas in 2005 to 2006 received $8.2 million in royalties for licensed Longhorn merchandise, according to the Collegiate Licensing Co.
According to its Web site, OU “has an established independent licensing program to control the use of the name, abbreviations, symbols, emblems, logos, mascots, slogans and other terminology associated with the university. Unauthorized use of any of the “¦ representations may be trademark infringement. Any unauthorized productions or sale of registered marks or names is a violation of the federal Lanham Trademark Act of 1946 and the federal Trademark Act of 1984. Such violations subject one to liability for damages, injunctive relief, (attorney) fees and other penalties. Infringing merchandise is subject to seizure.” OSU’s stated policies are similar.
Fine and dandy. I’m all for the universities reaping some profit from the use of their names and symbols by big manufacturers who are seeking even larger profits from bigger sales of their merchandise with popular designs. At the same time, I am appalled by the mind-set that trademark violations should be stringently enforced against items that are handcrafted in limited quantities ” such as many, if not all, of the items seized at An Affair of the Heart. Among the objects reported taken were embellished diaper bags and hand-sewn pillows made of printed ” and already licensed ” fabric purchased at a local chain store. The legal system will determine whether the universities had the right to confiscate the items, but it appears that common sense may have been confiscated long ago from the institutional enforcers.
In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that I own at least one “illegal” object: a small wooden bear that carries a paper pennant with an interlocking O and U handwritten in marking pen. It was made for me years ago by a Pittsburgh woodworker as a Christmas present. Come and get it, OU, but you’d better bring a search warrant and all the proper legal documents for seizure of my property.
I could tell you about the baby who sleeps under a Cowboy Joe blanket created by his grandmother or the Nebraska Little League team with red uniform T-shirts that say “Sooners,” but I don’t think I will. I no longer trust you to use that knowledge wisely and well.
Murphy is a freelance writer who lives in Norman.