Those intellectual property zealots at the University of Wisconsin are at it again. This time, Badgermania includes the claim that Wisconsin owns the letter “W.”
Well, not really, but putting it that way sure spices up the post. But while Wisconsin’s claim isn’t as over-the-top as the lawsuit that argues that the TV show “Heroes” falsely makes the In-Sink-Erator out to be dangerous , the university is treading on some thin trademark ice. I guess that there are times when I’m likely to confuse purple and gold with red and white, but this isn’t one of them. So the claim boils down to the letterforms, which are similar but not identical.
I don’t know if there is a trademark law test for college insignias, so I’ll propose one: The junior use of a senior mark in college and high school athletics is likely to cause confusion if a reasonable fan would think that the junior user is part of the senior’s athletic program. In short, does the logo of the Waukee Warriors make the school look like the JV version of the Wisconsin Badgers?
I don’t think so.
Here’s a question that bugs me about the In-Sink-Erator case:
The plaintiff (Emerson) claims that unauthorized use of the mark “tarnishes” it. Does the tarnishment arise from the fact that the device mangles someone’s hand — that is, from the inference that the In-Sink-Erator is dangerous? Or does the tarnishment arise from the fact that the person in question recovers miraculously — that is, from the inteference that the In-Sink-Erator is not, in fact, dangerous?