Ohio State Accuses CafePress of Trademark Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on November 9, 2016

cafepresslogoSan Diego – Ohio State University has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in federal court in Columbus, Ohio against CafePress, an online retailer based out of Louisville, Kentucky. The lawsuit claims that the online retailer is selling apparel and other merchandise that infringes on Ohio State’s trademarks.

The lawsuit states that merchandise with “Buckeyes” or “O-H-I-O” and pictures of its football coach Urban Meyer are infringing since the uses are without permission from the university.
The lawsuit claims that CafePress “unlawfully appropriated Ohio State’s trademarks and violated the publicity rights assigned to Ohio State by head football coach Urban Meyer.” In May of 2012, Coach Meyer gave Ohio State permission to trademark and use his image for merchandising and other marketing purposes.

The lawsuit also claims that CafePress sold products such as shirts, bags, mugs, calendars and more that appeared to be endorsed, licensed or approved by Ohio State University when in fact this is not the case. CafePress allows users to place custom logos on various types of merchandise and perhaps as a result has gained a reputation as a haven for infringing merchandise. CafePress has declined to make any comment regarding the allegations.

Deborah Mitchell, a professor of marketing at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, commented on the need for universities, particularly Ohio State, to become more protective of their brand and show the value in what it can do for the university. This lawsuit continues a recent trend of universities being more proactive in protecting trademarks.

Apart from preserving valuable trademarks, universities are also increasingly searching for avenues to generate more revenue, so product sales are becoming more of a focal point. With coaches’ salaries nearing the $10 million per season mark, merchandising sales are becoming a necessity to offset the increased costs. “It’s becoming more and more of a focus as universities are searching for every revenue source they can find, and they have realized that one of their biggest sources is their brand,” Mitchell said.

Ohio State is seeking damages of $1 million for every type of product sold by CafePress. Ohio State is also asking that CafePress pay back all of the profits from products sold with the university’s branding or trademarked property.

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