The spear on the helmets of the Westwood High football team bears a striking resemblance to the one used by a much higher profile school, and Thad Gates is the first to acknowledge it.
“You go to games on a Friday night and look at the helmets,” said Gates, Westwood’s athletic director, “and I would guess that 70 to 80 percent of them are fashioned after a college or NFL team.”
The Westwood spear is similar to the helmet logo used by Florida State University for decades.
A high school in Bradenton, Fla., dons a spear — and Florida State officials recently sent that school a letter demanding it phase out use of the logo and its Seminoles nickname. FSU’s athletic teams are called the Seminoles.
Though the practice has received more attention recently, colleges and universities for years have tried to protect their name and logo trademarks, with high schools and club sports teams frequently in the legal crosshairs.
“We haven’t heard from (Florida State) yet, but if this is something that the school decides to keep pursuing, then we’ll probably hear from them sooner or later,” Gates said.
A number of local schools could be in the same camp as Westwood. The design and implementation of a unique logo is a not-insignificant expense for budget-conscious schools, so some turn to an established emblem.
According to The Arizona High School Helmet Project website, at least three other schools have an FSU-style spear on their helmets. The Mustang of Dobson High is a mirror image of the logo utilized by Southern Methodist University and Ford Motor Co. The Sentinel logo of Seton Catholic High in Chandler resembles the Trojan of the University of Southern California.
“Trademark owners have a legal responsibility to police their mark, or they could lose rights in the trademark,” Kea Enos, a trademark attorney for Schmeiser, Olsen & Watts in Mesa, wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune. “A trademark is a valuable asset of the owner because it designates to consumers the source of particular goods and services.
“Accordingly, allowing unauthorized use of a trademark presents an issue to consumers to determine whether the goods are from the trademark owner or the unauthorized user. That creates consumer confusion, which the trademark laws are intended to prevent.”
Meanwhile, Mesquite High in Gilbert utilizes the “Powercat” logo of Kansas State University, but does so legally due to a licensing agreement between the schools.
As part of the agreement, Mesquite’s student council donates $500 to KSU every two years.
“(The logo) is something that comes up a lot,” said Anthony Scanio, Mesquite’s assistant principal and athletic director. “When we do business with a vendor, they are worried about copyright infringement, so I send along (documentation) showing that we are able to use it.”
Other examples of universities protecting their properties:
• The University of Pittsburgh ordered Whittmer High School in Toledo, Ohio, to stop using the trademarked Panther logo.
• The longhorn logo used by Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kans., drew the attention of the University of Texas.
• Arizona State University has enforced its trademarked Sun Devils name and Sparky logo often over the years, against high schools from Tucson to Virginia to New Mexico.
Jim Aronowitz, assistant general counsel for The Collegiate Licensing Co., which represents 160 major college athletic departments, said universities are not trying to bully high schools.
“Schools are not out there trying to get high schools to stop using the (logo) the next day,” Aronowitz said. “They are trying to resolve the issues where it’s acknowledged that the trademark rights belong to the college or university, and try to work out a resolution that limits any financial impact on the high school.”
It is not about money, either. The revenue that high schools receive from T-shirt sales and other promotions is, in many cases, so miniscule that it is not worth a university’s effort to demand a piece of the pie.
It is primarily about protecting a name and image, said Fernando Morales, assistant director of trademark licensing at ASU.
Sunnyside High in Tucson once used a logo similar to ASU’s Sparky — which the university conveniently discovered when the Blue Devils played in a state championship game at Sun Devil Stadium. ASU paid for the design of Sunnyside’s new logo.
ASU has worked out licensing agreements for as little as a dollar a year.
“If you do the process right, it can be great public relations,” Morales said. “If you have a high school using the logo, it might help in recruiting.”