MU battles Arkansas school district over tiger logo trademark

Thursday, November 21, 2013 | 7:35 p.m. CST; updated 11:55 a.m. CST, Friday, November 22, 2013
The Collegiate Licensing Co., charged with enforcing the copyright of MU’s logos, sent a cease and desist letter to the Green Forest School District in Arkansas. Collegiate Licensing officials argue that the district’s logo looks too similar to that of MU Athletics.

COLUMBIA — The image of a black and gold, growling tiger head is a common sight around Columbia. The symbol is emblazoned on MU's apparel, buildings and athletics uniforms.

The university is fighting to protect its tiger in a trademark dispute with an Arkansas school district with a similar logo.

Three weeks ago, Collegiate Licensing Co., the business that manages MU's trademarks and copyrights, sent a letter to the Green Forest School Board asking the school district to stop using the tiger head logo.

The northern Arkansas school board voted Monday to keep using the logo despite the threat of a legal battle that could cost the school district between $10,000 and $50,000, School Board President Bud Phillips said.

The board, which serves a town with population of less than 3,000, is now waiting to hear from Collegiate Licensing Co. in response to its decision.

The dispute won't go to court just yet, the company's attorney James Aronowitz said. Instead, the company plans to continue negotiations with the board in hopes of avoiding a lawsuit. 

"Just about all of these kinds of situations end amicably," said Aronowitz, who has worked on similar cases.

A logo violates federal trademark law if it could be confused with a similar protected logo, Aronowitz said.

But the Green Forest School District doesn't think their tiger could be confused with MU's. Ninety percent of participants in a poll on the district's website said they would not confuse the two logos. 

"We don't think any reasonable person would look at those two logos side by side and confuse the two," Phillips said. "There's going to be similarities because they're the same animal. A tiger looks like a tiger, and there's only so much you can do with that."

MU is not seeking any money from the school district and is just trying to protect its rights, Aronowitz said. A trademark owner can lose the rights to its logo if its use is not properly monitored.

"Money is not the goal here," he said. "If they don't police their mark and protect it, there is a chance that they'll lose their rights."

Although the specific logo in question is less than a decade old, the Green Forest School District has used a tiger mascot since the schools opened in the early 1900s, Phillips said.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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