Florida Atlantic University Suddenly Decides Owl Tutoring's Name Is Trademark Infringement After Over A Decade

from the too-late dept

As some of you may be aware, Florida Atlantic University’s sports teams and mascots are the Owls. As some of you may also be aware, the southeast is home to Owl Tutoring, a college tutoring service with a fairly good reputation. Owl Tutoring has existed for over a decade and has even promoted itself by advertising in FAU publications. That’s probably why it took the folks at the company by such surprise to suddenly get a C&D letter from FAU’s legal team accusing it of committing trademark infringement.

Owl Tutoring has had a close relationship with the university for many years, including operating on campus for almost five years before moving off-campus to the FAU business incubator. Despite this long-standing association, FAU is now claiming that Owl Tutoring is violating its trademark.

Owl Tutoring believes the university can’t claim exclusive rights in the term “owl” in connection with tutoring services because the term is highly suggestive for these services given that owls are a well-known symbol for wisdom and knowledge. The company also notes there are over a dozen coexisting registered and pending trademarks incorporating the term “owl” for educational services.

In addition to pointing out that using the term “owl” for educational services is both widely done and potentially generic, Owl Tutoring also wondered out loud in its response letter to FAU just where the school has been for the past decade if it had a problem with the company’s name.

In response to FAU legal filings, Owl Tutoring asserted that FAU’s claims of trademark infringement are invalid because the university slept on its rights to object for more than 10 years, while actively supporting Owl Tutoring’s activities. Owl Tutoring has advertised its services in the FAU College of Business’ lobby, posted flyers approved by FAU and rendered services in FAU classrooms reserved by university staff explicitly for Owl Tutoring’s use.

Owl Tutoring, which is headed by an FAU alumnus, ends its response by politely suggesting that perhaps the legal team for FAU wasn’t aware of the close relationship between the two entities. Regardless of whether or not that is true, it sure would be hard to imagine a jury or court finding that the company suddenly infringed after a decade of coexisting with the university.

Let’s hope this is just a case of an overeager legal partner.

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Companies: fau, florida atlantic university, owl tutoring

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Comments on “Florida Atlantic University Suddenly Decides Owl Tutoring's Name Is Trademark Infringement After Over A Decade”

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DocGerbil100 says:

From Wikipedia:

In Greek mythology, a little owl (Athene noctua) traditionally represents or accompanies Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom, or Minerva, her syncretic incarnation in Roman mythology. Because of such association, the bird – often referred to as the "owl of Athena" or the "owl of Minerva" – has been used as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, perspicacity and erudition throughout the Western world.

Looked things up. The only recognisable point of contention really is just the use of the word "owl". It takes a truly very special kind of idiocy not to know your own logo comes from a symbol of knowledge, learning and wisdom that has been generic since literally over half a millennium before the birth of Christ, much less threaten suit over it.

Cultural illiteracy is a bad thing when you represent a university. Whoever thought this threat letter was a good idea clearly needs to go back to school.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

It may have been done before

It seems certain that FAU have registered trademarks involving owls. It may be a specific bit of art, or the term in combination with FAU (e.g. “FAU Owl Football”).

Or, it could be more generic. It could have been vetted and approved by the same patent and trademark office that spent years approving “x on a computer” applications.

DocGerbil100 says:

Re: It may have been done before

FAU’s trademarks are made freely available by them over the internet, along with licensing details:


It’s unclear as to what precise trademark’s been allegedly infringed. The respective logos aren’t vaguely similar, not even if you squint. The names aren’t similar, nor in a similar font or even in the same sentence case.

In the reply letter, even the respondent’s lawyer says he can’t tell what’s supposed to have been infringed.

The only similarities with anything are between: the word "owl" in Owl Tutoring’s name, set against the image of an owl in some FAU logos; and the use of the colour blue by both companies – and it’s a visibly slightly different colour blue, at that.

Perhaps FAU thinks it owns all usage of darker shades of blue in relation to education services? Maybe the lawyer thinks he’s T-Mobile. 😛

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