from the kentuck-you dept
We’ve already established that the University of Kentucky is sort of insane when it comes to overly restrictive trademark practices. We’ve also established that many other educational institutions are equally asshat-ish when it comes to trademark issues, in particular, for some reason, on any matter that in any way has to do with alcohol brands. The beer and liquor industries are dealing with their own trademark issues resulting from the explosion in craft brewing, but this is the story of how the University of Kentucky has managed to convince itself and, apparently, the USPTO that it has sole ownership of the very name of the state in which it is located for use on apparel.
This all started when Kentucky Mist Moonshine opened its doors recently and, along with ostensibly selling moonshine (mmm!), the company also created apparel to sell at the distillery. You know, hats and T-shirts and whatnot, all of which had “Kentucky Mist Moonshine” branded on them. That’s when the University of Kentucky stuck its nose into the distillery’s business for reasons I can’t even begin to understand.
UK threatened legal action against Kentucky Mist Moonshine for its pursuit of a federal trademark registration for the Kentucky Mist Moonshine mark for hats, hooded sweatshirts, jackets, pants, shirts, shoes and socks in international trademark Class 25 based on its registration of the Kentucky Mist mark.
As a result of the threat letters, Kentucky Mist has filed suit against the university, requesting either that the school’s trademarks be declared invalid or, the more likely outcome, reform the registration to limit the protection of the marks to apparel that clearly attempts to trade off of an implied endorsement or association with the school. This only makes sense in terms of the purpose of trademark law, of course, which centers around customer confusion and the ability of a brand to identify itself as the source to the consumer. Kentucky Mist apparel, on the other hand, does nothing to even remotely associate itself with the school. This is all about the control of the word “Kentucky,” which is the name of a location and is so generic as to never deserve trademark protection to begin with.
The school’s response amounts to stating that it registered the mark and that’s the end of the story.
In an email message provided to the Herald-Leader on Oct. 29, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the university has used the word Kentucky as a trademark to identify its athletic uniforms and various articles of clothing sold to fans since at least 1940. Blanton’s letter said the university registered in 1997 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark offices for the word Kentucky for clothing, educational services and collegiate athletic services.
But that’s not really true. Established trademarks are reviewed all the time, particularly in the cases of glaringly generic marks such as the name of a state or other geographical location. The message went on to note just how much money the university generates by licensing the use of the word “Kentucky” for clothing, claiming that their tradedmark is “incontestable.” We’ll find out shortly just how true that is, given that Kentucky Mist intends to contest it via this suit, but the larger point is that a government that permits so much restriction in the name of trademark needs to do a better job of not approving such general trademarks to begin with.