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Can I Sell Items With College Logos?

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

While it may seem like a great idea to sell products affixed with college or university logos, and they might sell like hotcakes, chances are this would be illegal without licenses from the schools you plan to promote.

The Value of a College Logo

If you close your eyes right now, you can probably picture the logo of the college you attended or your favorite college sports team. That's because colleges and universities do a great job of marketing their brands. They want you to see their logo and know exactly what school it is.

At the same time, they don't want their logos to be overused, or used without their permission. That's where trademark and copyright issues come into play.

When School Logos Are Intellectual Property

School logos, mascots, taglines, and other branding devices are often intellectual property and protected by trademarks and copyrights, which protect the school's brand.

Trademark infringement occurs when a business or individual uses a mark, such as a logo, that has been trademarked by an entity, or is so similar that it causes confusion to the general public.

Copyrights are similar to trademarks, but they apply to creative intellectual property. So, copyright infringement could occur when artwork for the design of a logo or mascot, protected by copyright, is used without permission from the copyright holder.

How Trademark Law Could Apply

Schools have various reasons for wanting to protect their trademarks, and the most common are:

  • To prevent others from making money on their brand without the school getting a cut. A business that has purchased a license from the school shares the profits with the school.
  • To prevent people from being confused about the origin of the goods being sold. Schools don't want people to think that the products are being sold by the school.
  • To prevent the "dilution" of the logo. For example, if the logo is being used for many different purposes it can become generic and the trademark holder could lose the ability to protect it.
  • To prevent "tarnishment" of the logo. For example, a school wouldn't want its brand associated with products that are low quality or controversial.

How Copyright Law Could Apply

Colleges and universities are often successful using claims of copyright infringement when businesses or individuals have reproduced the artwork for the design of a logo or mascot without a proper license. Typically, the school must only show that the business or individual had access to the original, copyrighted work and sold or distributed products "substantially similar" to the original.

How to Legally Sell Products With College Logos

Oftentimes, colleges and universities are willing to sell licenses to businesses and individuals wanting to sell things containing the school's logo, slogan, or mascot. Work with an intellectual property attorney in your area to see if you can legally produce and sell the products you have in mind.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you identify how to best protect your business' intellectual property.

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