Attorneys find U-M a victor over MSU in trademark battle

While the winner of the Oct. 17 gridiron match-up between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University was a last-minute win for MSU, there is a clear victor off the field when it comes to school trademarks, according to Michael Spink, a shareholder in the Ann Arbor office of intellectual property law firm Brinks Gilson & Lione. Spink and his colleague, Briana Emerson, an associate at Brinks, researched each school’s registered trademarks in a study earlier this year that analyzed the trend among universities of registering unusual trademarks that are often related to athletics.

“In the rivalry between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, U of M is the clear winner in the trademark competition,” Spink said. “MSU has 17 live registrations (including the block S and Spartan helmet), 6 pending registrations, and 8 unregistered trademarks; while U of M has 54 live registrations (including the block M and a word mark for the BIG HOUSE), 12 pending registrations, and 16 non-registered trademarks.”

Emerson notes the University of Michigan has trademarks that incorporate the names of its school colors, including “MAIZE RAGE” (US Reg. No. 2683625) and “M GO BLUE” (US Reg. No. 2781716) for both collegiate athletic exhibitions and games. She also offers some other interesting tidbits on the intellectual property and social media happenings of both Big 10 schools:

• In June 2015, MSU signed Atlanta based Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) as its licensing agent. Until June, MSU had been “one of the nation’s largest remaining independent licensing programs,” according to a press release on the CLC website. CLC represents nearly 200 collegiate institutions nationwide, including the University of Michigan.

• The CLC website lists U of M’s royalty rate as 12 percent while MSU’s royalty rate is 10 percent.

• In published university financial documents, MSU lists its athletic licensing and royalty revenue from June 2013 to July 2014 as $1,762,160, while U of M lists its athletic licensing and royalty revenue as $7,487,000 for the same time period.

• According to a hashtag search on Instagram, #harbaugh has been used 15,412 times as of Sept 29, while #dantonio has been used 1,133 times. Harbaugh’s dominance could be skewed because of his time coaching professional football.

Amid all the competition, Spink, who blogs and tweets about unusual trademarks @funkymarks, said that the universities in Michigan have not ventured too far into the field of registering non-traditional trademarks. In contrast, he notes that many other universities have.

"For example, the University of Arkansas’ famous ‘hog call,’ a distinctive crowd cheering ‘Woooooooo. Pig. Sooie! Woooooooo. Pig. Sooie! Woooooooo. Pig. Sooie! Razorbacks!’ was registered in 2014 with the trademark office,” Spink said. “In overcoming an initial rejection, the university submitted a substitute specimen, along with evidence of continuous and exclusive use for at least 5 years preceding the application, in order to obtain the trademark registration. Our universities’ mutual rival, Ohio State, has registered the silhouette of four people using their arms to spell O-H-I-O, a longstanding tradition of alumni and students.”

Spink and Emerson hold degrees from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University respectively.

To view their original report from March 2015 on the trend towards trademarking school colors and other college athletic signs and symbols, visit