By PHOEBE SOLOMON
On Monday, October 20, University High School (UHS) was met with a harsh and unexpected reality: UHS’s well-known and widely-used “U” logo had been forced out of commission by a university over 2,700 miles away. The University of Miami (UM), located in Coral Gables, Florida, served the UHS community a cease and desist, effective immediately, on the grounds of copyright infringement, claiming that the UHS “U” logo too closely resembles the “U” logo used by UM.
Admittedly, the two logos have seemingly identical shapes, but the similarity would only be relevant if the logos in question were of an intricate design. Both institutions, however, capitalize on the concept of simplicity, and their logos have the fundamental shape of a “U”. While UM’s school colors are white, orange, and green, UHS’s colors are white, navy blue, and Columbia blue. These differing colors are prominent in the two separate logos, making each logo unique and distinguishable. Additionally, some variations of the UHS logo include the abbreviation “Uni” between the bottom tips of the “U”, making the variation even more substantial.
Anthony Reese, a copyright and trademark professor at the University of Irvine School of Law, explained that trademark law initially protected trademarked logos from “passing off” wherein one party intentionally brands their product falsely in order to fool consumers. Reese elaborated that “trademark infringement now goes beyond the intentional passing off of a product using a symbol identical to the trademark and includes the use of any symbol that is likely to cause confusion”.
The matter of whether the two “U” logos in question are too alike lies in individual interpretation, but it seems that UM is focusing its attention mainly on the shape instead of the much more prevalent and notable contrasting colors, as well as the “Uni” between the two halves of the “U.” It also seems that UM is disregarding the substantial distance between the two institutions.
According to Professor Reese, “traditionally, multiple parties could use the same or a similar symbol on the same goods or services as long as each party was geographically remote from the other parties,” but as travel became a possibility for a wide range of people, logos spread much more rapidly. “Starting in the mid-1940s, federal law provided that someone who uses a symbol on her goods or services could register her trademark with the federal government,” henceforth affording the logo’s owner national rights to the logo.
It is true that modern media coverage and advanced means of communication allow for more immediate spread of anything, logos inclusive. UHS, however, is not an institution of magnitude, whereas UM is a large, expansive university. UM caters to a much larger audience, while UHS’s news and events are not far-reaching and are geared mostly toward UHS students, parents and staff.
As to how UM hopes to benefit from this legal action, the university’s communication directors declined to further comment regarding the cease and desist. There seems to be a discernible benefit for UM to threaten a lawsuit against a public high school: UHS has neither the money nor the resources to counteract the cease and desist.
At the very least, the logo controversy creates an enormous inconvenience for UHS. The high school may even face a lawsuit if the cease and desist is not adhered to, whereas UM stands to benefit very little, if at all. In fact, it would come as no surprise if the conflict stirred unrest and animosity toward the university, and many will see legal action as an overreaction and an unnecessary exhibition of power.
If the saying “pick your battles” has ever applied to a predicament, the logo controversy would be that one. Very few people, if anyone, would ever confuse one logo for another. Most people nationwide have and will never see the UHS logo, and UM has only tainted its own reputation and respectability.