Court Offers Trademark Protections for College Colors

5th Circuit sides with Louisiana State, Ohio State, Southern Cal, and Oklahoma.


College colors are now slightly more protected by trademark law: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Louisiana State, Ohio State, Southern Cal, and the University of Oklahoma in a case involving T-shirts that used the colors but not the names or logos of major college football programs, Inside Higher Ed reports. The four schools sued Smack Apparel Co. over concerns that its designs could be mistaken for university-sanctioned merchandise.

One of the designs in question featured LSU's winning final score from the Sugar Bowl, with the phrase "Sugar is Sweet." Although "LSU" was nowhere to be found, the shirt did use the university's signature purple and gold.

The federal court wrote:

This is so, we have noted, because Smack's use of the universities' colors and indicia is designed to create the illusion of affiliation with the universities and essentially obtain a 'free ride' by profiting from confusion among the fans of the universities' football teams who desire to show support for and affiliation with those teams. This creation of a link in the consumer's mind between the t-shirts and the universities and the intent to directly profit therefrom results in 'an unmistakable aura of deception' and likelihood of confusion.