Some Utah State U. Student Campaign Slogans Might Violate Law

By By U Wire

By U Wire

Christopher LokeThe Utah Statesman Utah State University

LOGAN?During the week of the Associated Students of Utah State University elections, propaganda banners, slogans and logos were seen all over campus. These logos and slogans might appear to be funny and catchy to many students, but many of them violated the federal trademark law, and in a more serious scenario, the school might end up in a million-dollar lawsuit.

“Trademarks are exclusive rights to use a symbol or other identifiable logo, and it is granted by the federal government for a period of 10 years,” said Penny Byrne, professor of communication. “It grants exclusive rights to use that mark.”

She said anyone else who uses the mark for any other purpose without the owner’s permission is in violation of the federal trademark law. Byrne said in a case such as the election, the federal trademark law definitely was broken.

Among the slogans and logos that were subjected to the violation were Michael Baker’s “Got Mike?” slogan, Jake Stevens’ Superman symbol, Kelly Mendenhall’s Circle K logo, Brad Jowers’ Superman character icon and Mike Wagonner’s Volkswagen logo.

To Stevens, the use of the Superman logo was out of pure innocence. He said the actual logo used during his election was modified to look different from the original one.

“I don’t think about the trademark things until after the election,” Stevens said.

He said he could not remember the ASUSU election committees informing him of such rules. The reason he used the logo for his election campaign was because it catches people’s eyes, he said. It is also a recognizable symbol.

Realizing his violation, Stevens said he wished he would have adjusted the logo enough to stay away from the original resemblance. He also said he would be more creative if he were to run again.

“If recommended by authorities to not do it,” Stevens said, “I won’t do it again.”

Baker’s “Got Mike?” slogan was yet another example of a violation of the federal trademark law. Baker said he does not think he violated any laws. He said the reason he used the slogan was because he did not think it was wrong. Furthermore, he said, instead of “Got Milk?,” his slogan was “Got Mike?”

But according to Black’s Law Dictionary on trademark infringement, any suggestive trademarks used are also in violation of the trademark law. The segment describes a suggestive mark or term as “one that suggests, rather than describes, some particular characteristics of goods and services to which it applies and requires consumer to exercise imagination in order to draw conclusion as to nature of goods or services.”

Byrne said one main reason companies go through the time and expense to register their trademarks is to keep other people from using it. The owner basically owns exclusive rights to these logos and slogans, she said. In a case such as Baker’s, she said, if a lawsuit was filed and he lost, he might have to pay damages from his own pocket.

“It is probably not going to be a real nice situation for a 23 year-old college student to find himself with the worse end of a $100,000 damage reward,” she said.

Although the election candidates were violating trademark laws, they were not encouraged to do so, said Nollie Haws, ASUSU vice president of public relations. Haws, who also headed the election committee, said the candidates were asked not to use any copyrighted materials in the election bylaws.

She said most of the candidates did not get permission because they knew they were not going to get caught. But if something were to happen, she said, the responsibility falls on the candidates.

“So far, no one has gotten into trouble, so it keeps repeating,” Haws said. “I hope that if something did happen, the companies would take it in good humor. Copying is the highest form of flattery.”

Although carrying out a strict trademark rule in an election campaign may be the right thing to do, it is going to be less fun, Haws said.

“The simple fact is that students are not a good target for a lawsuit, but the university is,” he said.