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.