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Patent office tells Southern Miss its logo too similar to Iowa’s

[ 8 ] August 2, 2011 |

By Patrick Magee

Hattiesburg (Miss.) American

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The Golden Eagle logo unveiled by Southern Mississippi nearly nine years ago might be in jeopardy because University of Iowa officials say it’s too similar to their Tiger Hawk emblem — and a three-judge panel agrees.

USM’s trademark application was denied last week by judges in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, who ruled 2-1 in favor of Iowa.

The ruling has left USM’s attorneys scouring the 54-page decision.

“Our attorneys are reviewing the decision by the judges,” USM athletic director Richard Giannini said Tuesday. “Until we have their review, we’re not really going to comment on it.”

Jason Bush, an attorney with Baker Donelson in Jackson, said USM could appeal the decision, which was made by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C.

“In the alternative,” wrote Bush in an email, “USM has the option of presenting additional evidence or raising additional claims in the United States District Court in any district venue that is proper.”

Giannini and other USM officials have long argued that the logos bare little resemblance.

USM unveiled its new Golden Eagle logo in January 2003 in an overhaul of the athletic department’s brand — and it quickly became part of the school’s athletic identity.

The eagle head logo is painted on the artificial turf at M.M. Roberts Stadium and on the basketball court at Reed Green Coliseum.

It’s on the pants worn by USM football players and on USM shirts, hats, jackets, pants and other items sold throughout the state.

The logo was created by USM graduate Rodney Richardson, who owns RARE Design, a graphic design firm based in Hattiesburg.

In 2004, Iowa officials argued that the two images were confusingly similar.

Last week, Iowa got two out of three judges to concur.

Administrative trademark judge David Bucher wrote in his majority opinion that he backed Iowa’s claim that there would be “the likelihood of confusion” in merchandise sales between the schools.

Bucher describes the argument that USM made to point out differences between the two logos:

“Specifically, (USM) argues that each of the Iowa Hawkeyes marks is a collection of four separate silhouette shapes put together in close proximity creating a two dimensional image that is then displayed against backgrounds of changing colors. (USM) suggests that each Iowa Hawkeyes mark has the simplicity of a stenciled or stamped image. By contrast, Southern Miss argues that its new eagle head is more complex, having the “fierce eyed gaze of independence” and the “black peak of the beak” to create a “symbol of courage and power, reminiscent of Roman soldiers … going into battle [with] a crimson banner with a golden eagle emblazoned on the banner.”

Bucher wrote that he found fault in USM’s argument:

“The overall similarity in appearance of the marks on the goods, particularly in light of the use of identical color schemes, creates virtually identical commercial impressions.”

USM made the case that the use of birds of prey as mascots is prevalent in college sports along with the use of bird heads as logos. USM submitted several examples to back its claim.

Bucher also shot down that argument: “When making a visual comparison between Iowa’s Hawkeyes marks and each of these designs, we find that none of these Division I third-party marks remotely resembles Iowa’s Hawkeyes designs. Certainly, none is as similar to Iowa’s marks as is (USM’s) mark. Moreover, whether some of these third-party marks (e.g., those having commercial impressions quite distinct from the marks of Iowa and USM) are similar to each other is not relevant to our analysis, and has no bearing on the question of whether the marks in this case are likely to cause confusion.”

In his conclusion, Bucher wrote that he sided with Iowa out of caution and precedent.

The lone dissenter on the board was administrative trademark judge Tom Wellington, who largely supported USM’s case in a brief dissenting opinion.

He wrote that he does not believe there is a likelihood of confusion and that “the parties’ marks may be distinguished as two visually different bird head logos being used in connection with two different sports teams, albeit on the same goods.”

 

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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