U Of Alabama Wants To Have Its Cake And Sue You Too

from the trademark-insanity dept

We've talked a few times recently about the insanity created by over-aggressive intellectual property enforcement when it comes to universities, and the University of Alabama really is a prime example. After all, this is the school that sued a local artist for painting (very popular) commemorative paintings of UA football moments. Thankfully, it recently lost that case, but I guess the lawyers at Alabama didn't quite get the message that perhaps they shouldn't be so quick to dash off legal nastygrams. It appears that the lawyers in charge of enforcing UA's trademarks were quick to send off a legal nastygram to a local baker because she was making hand-decorated cakes and cookies with "UA-related" imagery:
[Mary] Cesar is owner of Mary's Cakes & Pastries in downtown Northport. The bakery is known for its customized cakes, but it also sells fresh-baked pastries and iced and decorated form-cut cookies. During the last three to four years, its cookies, especially during the football season, have included hats with a houndstooth-like icing pattern, footballs and elephants with the letter “A.” Some customers also ordered cakes decorated with a Crimson Tide theme.
Yeah, just one problem: she was doing that for the university itself.
Mary Cesar created a cake that resembled the BCS National Championship trophy for the Crimson Tide's athletic department for National Signing Day in February. And when the University of Alabama Law School held a reception for its recent graduates, it ordered 10 dozen cookies decorated with a capital “A” for Alabama from her bakery.
Cesar announced that she couldn't afford to fight the legal nastygram, and was going to stop producing the popular baked goods. After the story got out, the University quickly went into damage-control mode and issued an apology, claiming that it was "not consistent with the protocol we normally follow for local vendors on trademark issues." Given the lawsuit mentioned above, it's not clear that's really accurate. Of course, part of the culprit here may be that UA outsourced its trademark enforcement to a third party. Collegiate Licensing Co., based in Atlanta, is who the letter actually came from. It would seem that if you're seeking to build up goodwill with local merchants who supply your own staff with university-themed baked goods, perhaps the first thing you should do is not let lawyers from some other state start nastygramming them.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 12:39pm

    Systemic problem

    I'm pretty sure that if you want to build up goodwill at all, you shouldn't let any lawyers that are not intimately familiar with your business send out legal nastygrams to anyone.

    This sounds more like a systemic problem with the way legal services and the "professionals" involved are acting all around the country/world. How many of the bogus legal threats are coming as a result of lawyers running out of control and threatening/suing anything they conceivably can instead of having someone looking over their shoulder asking if it really makes sense from a business/PR perspective?

     

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  2.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Systemic problem

    You hear enough news stories about how IP is our most valuable asset, and this is where you end up.
    You listen to the stories and studies claiming billions of dollars are being stole from people who own IP, and you want your piece of the pie. Someone offers to do it for you and will send you checks, you sign on the dotted line and you know your safe... until you destroy your image.

     

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  3.  
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    sehlat (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 1:22pm

    Crimson Tide vs. Tsunami of Anger

    And the Crimson Tide apparently saw some sort of reason:

    http://www.caketalkblog.com/2012/09/how-it-ended.html

     

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  4.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Crimson Tide vs. Tsunami of Anger

    She should have fought, and demanded that they sue the customer who ordered the offending material as well.
    Picture the looks on the lawyers faces not knowing which side to sit on.

     

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  5.  
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    MrWilson, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 1:43pm

    Being from Alabama of sorts, I'm not surprised at all that people would want U of Alabama logos and such on their cakes because Football is a religion down there, but that micro-ultra-nationalism is sadly more offensive to me than the University lawyering up to try to make money off of the stupid people who worship their college football program.

     

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  6.  
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    sehlat (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re: Crimson Tide vs. Tsunami of Anger

    Fought with what? A lady who is (somewhat) making a living in this economy versus a big university with lawyers coming out of their ears and a multimillion-dollar football program?

    Yes. Everybody loves a David vs. Goliath story. However, David with his sling versus "Nuke him from orbit."? Good luck to David.

    It's good that the priests of the local football religion figured out that creating martyrs might just NOT be the best idea anybody's ever had.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 2:54pm

    I keep my "UA-related imagery" in the privacy of my own home. I do not upload or redistribute it in any way. As far as I'm concerned, the government should have no say in what a person looks at in the privacy of his own home for his own personal enjoyment.
    What does this have to with the University Of Alabama?

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 3:08pm

    I would have ceased all dealings with the university and immediately started decorating with the logos of UA's biggest rival.

     

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  9.  
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    TDR, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 3:20pm

    Life is like a box of U of A cookies. You never know if it'll get you sued.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 3:36pm

    Must have gone to UGA. LAW.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 6:45pm

    Re:

    Seriously? People that like to support a football team by buying team-themed pastries offends you? Are you equally disgusted by students that wear high school letter jackets or green on St. Patrick's day? I bet you're a hoot on the 4th of July...

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 7:16pm

    Re:

    "the University lawyering up to try to make money off of the stupid people who worship their college football program."

    Did you even read the article? Said stupid people are the University. The University told the baker to use their logos for products for the University. It then sued her for complying with its demands.

     

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  13.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 15th, 2012 @ 8:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Crimson Tide vs. Tsunami of Anger

    By getting the University named as well in the lawsuit.
    I was not suggesting she engage in a giant legal battle, but force the Universities lawyers to have to sit on both sides of the court room fighting each other.

     

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  14.  
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    Thomas (profile), Sep 15th, 2012 @ 10:12am

    Great business model

    Pay/encourage local merchants to support the university, then sue them. How can you possibly lose? So what will they do next year when no merchants are willing to do anything for the university? Just goes to show that universities these days are all about profit and money, by whatever means they can do it. Of course the baker should have demanded that the university be named as a defendant as well, since the university ordered the stuff.

    Maybe next year they will find that merchants will not even sell university approved merchandise.

     

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  15.  
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    MrWilson, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm referring to the fact that the university hired a third party to enforce their IP. The specifics of this case are a result of that action, regardless of whether the clients of the baker were employed by or represented the university.

     

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  16.  
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    MrWilson, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 12:48pm

    Re: Re:

    I wasn't referring just to the people who want the logo on their cakes. I'm referring to the people who treat college football like a religion - people with whom I interacted on a daily basis for several years when I lived there.

    A perfect example is the Toomer's Corner tree poisoning incident: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auburn_Tigers#Toomer.27s_Trees_poisoned. Anyone who decides to poison 130+ year old trees and potentially groundwater also over a stupid college sports rivalry is definitely taking this shit too seriously.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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