Thought Leadership

The Benefits of Trademark Registration

Only three days after firing Tracy Claeys, the University of Minnesota announced PJ Fleck as its fifth football head coach in ten years. The events leading up to Claeys’ dismissal have deeply hurt the reputation of the University and its football program. The University and athletic department specifically have faced tremendous local and national criticism in the wake of troubling sexual assault allegations against members of the football team. Even former head football coach Jerry Kill criticized Athletic Director Mark Coyle in a scathing local radio interview. The University undoubtedly believes that Fleck is the man necessary to rejuvenate its embattled program, motivate ticket sales, and boost its national reputation.

Fleck brings a great deal of excitement with him from Kalamazoo to Minneapolis. In 2012 he became the youngest FBS head coach at 32 years old. He managed to turn Western Michigan University’s football team around from a 1-11 record to an undefeated campaign in 2016 ending in a close loss to Wisconsin in the 2017 Cotton Bowl.

The excitement around Fleck is also based, in no small part, on his ubiquitous “Row the Boat” slogan. “Row the Boat” can be found on everything from t-shirts to banners, and all matter of collectible items for the Western Michigan faithful. Fleck does not miss an opportunity to include it or the acronym “RTB” in his personal twitter feed or in media appearances. This is exactly the type of excitement the University of Minnesota needs; only there’s one big problem. The Board of Trustees of Western Michigan University owns the trademark, U.S. Registration No. 4,813,321 registered September 15, 2015.

Any unlicensed use of “Row the Boat” by Fleck or the University of Minnesota could get very costly very soon. The Federal trademark law, the Lanham Act provides for statutory damages of up to $2,000,000 per type of infringing use. Western Michigan could alternatively seek profits, and attorney’s fees from Fleck and the University of Minnesota for use of the trademark. The Lanham Act also provides the ability to seize any infringing products and stop infringing services by Court order.

The problems faced by the University and Fleck show the value of trademark protection to any business. Seeking trademark registration is the best way to maximize your rights under the law. Fleck’s “Row the Boat” trademark started as a small rallying cry at Western Michigan, and now has serious implications to the University of Minnesota and Fleck’s national celebrity. Securing trademark protection is cost efficient and relatively easy. The benefits can be astronomical, while the costs of failing to secure trademark protection can be devastating.

With any questions regarding Trademark registration and law please contact Alex Farrell.

[1] 15 U.S.C. § 1117(c)(2)

[2] 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a)

[3] 15 U.S.C. § 1116