Soon after a mural depicting seven school logos appeared at Ryan & Tony’s Barber Shop in Millbury, the owners had a visitor — Northwood Schools Superintendent Greg Clark.
Northwood Schools had just released its new logo, although it has not had much public exposure yet. But the school district went a step further than most districts — it copyrighted and trademarked the logo.
The logo is designed by graphic artist Nathan James, the son of football coach Ken James, and the legal process was completed in June, Clark said. The logo is already stamped on a new gym floor, which was finished by a Woodville flooring company, and it’s on letterhead, lanyards, and so forth.
Graphic artist Nathan James stands next to logo he
The reason for the trademark — major national retailers are selling sports apparel with the school names, colors, and logos, and Clark says the district gets no money from those sales. He wants to change all that.
“Obviously what has happened in the past is that our school name, mascot, and colors and all those things — people other than us have used that for profit,” Clark alleges. “That’s (logo) unique to us. I think that has happened to a lot of schools. So, when we were looking at getting a new logo put together for the athletic department, one of the things we’ve done is we’ve had it done specifically for us. It’s not a stock, off the internet, logo.”
Locally, Northwood is one of the first, but not the only one to seek legal protection. Oak Harbor has trademarked its logo, but for a different reason.
“A couple of years ago, the University of Toledo contacted us with a letter threatening legal action if we did not stop using ‘their rocket,’” OH athletic director Drew Grahl said in an email. “As a result, we worked with a local vendor to create a new rocket that we use. Both the vendor and the school have trademarked the new rocket.”
However, superintendents from Eastwood, Lake, and Genoa say their districts have not copyrighted or trademarked their logos.
The Press stopped in at Meier Wednesday night and found apparel for sale with colors and logos from Waite, Clay, and Maumee. A tag attached to the Waite and Maumee apparel, but not the Clay apparel, said, “A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this product will directly benefit your school.” Apparel representing Waite, Clay, and Lake are on sale at Wal-Mart, and made by the same company. Waite AD Cris Lorton said, to her knowledge, the school has not received any money from Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile, Clark says athletic boosters and band boosters are also trying to sell apparel to raise funds. But that doesn’t mean what the larger chain stores are doing violates any laws, Clark acknowledges.
“If the school has not done anything to protect their mark, it is open season, basically,” Clark said. “In years past, I know that those businesses have sold things with our name and our colors. I don’t think they are doing anything wrong and for the most part I don’t think schools have gone to the effort to do that protection, so we are investing in something new. I took those steps to protect the school district over the next few years.”
However, trademark attorney Charles R. Schaub of downtown Toledo firm Emch, Schaffer, Schaub & Porcello Co., L.P.A., says the districts may have legal recourse even if they don’t file the paperwork. He says the continual use of that logo and colors could show that it belongs to school, based on its agreement with the artist.
“Traditionally, if I am an artist and I create that logo and I have ownership in it, regardless of whether or not I have actually registered it as a copyright, it’s still my artistic work,” Schaub said. “Arguably, I think they could ask these merchants for money.
“I think what they would say going forward is say, ‘Hey, gee, if you want to use our stuff, you have to give us something.’ I expect that will be more of the bargain that will be struck. I think clearly there is an opportunity to say, ‘Clearly, you can’t do that without compensating us for it.’”
Looking down the road
In addition, media coverage of high school sports continues to be on the rise.
“I guess one of the things I’m always doing as a superintendent is look down the road a little bit, too, as more and more high school athletic programs are being marketed to larger and larger audiences,” Clark said.
“Not necessarily Northwood right now, but we do appear on Buckeye (Cable Sports Network) and so forth. When you or I were kids, college athletics was kind of small time compared to what it is now. In 30 years, are we looking at high school athletics — who knows? We’ve got websites out there dedicated to high school athletics.”
Schaub does think that it is a good idea for school districts to file a state trademark, which is less expensive than a federal trademark. The cost may be worth protecting the booster clubs.
“Only in very few school districts, maybe Massillon or someplace that has some athletic lore that kind of exceeds the state of Ohio, where maybe in other states they would buy something, saying, ‘Hey, this is part of that Massillon football dynasty program’ (do they need to file federal trademarks).
“But if it’s Northwood or Lake or someplace, once you get out of Northwest Ohio, I don’t think that anybody cares. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I just think their presence is very regional, which it should be.”
Clark actually loved the artwork on display at the barber shop, and he has no intention of going after co-owners Ryan Bowen and Tony Meadows. But it is the school’s legal responsibility to notify the shop to show it is protecting that logo.
“I don’t have any desire as a superintendent and I don’t think our school district has any desire to give a local business a hard time. I think that, from what I gather from them, their hearts in the right place in trying to be supportive of our school,” Clark said.
“Really, I sincerely believe those guys are supporting our kids and our community, but not everybody would be. This is a local business not making any attempt to take advantage of us. I heard about it, and so I just stopped in to see what it was. It was kind of surprising because we haven’t even rolled it out.”