Trademark Infringement of Mascot Logo! Texas High School Gets Mauled by Penn State

Buna H.S. infringing on Penn State Nittany Lions logo

Buna H.S. infringing on Penn State Nittany Lions logo on their helmets

Like many high schools with little budget and no clue as to what institutes true trademark infringement, Buna High School in Buna, Texas had been “assured” by a local sportswear vendor that using this cool cougar image would be perfect and different enough than Penn State’s Nittany Lion logo that they would be safe in using it. Not sure what alternate universe this sportswear vendor was in when they were viewing the Nittany Lions’ logo because it was a rip-off all the way to the same color, but I’m sure they felt some sense of protection in the relative obscurity of being a small high school in the middle of Texas (actually they’re closer to the coast, northeast of Houston) that no one would notice that they were using someone else’s registered trademark for their school mascot. But…someone did, and that someone notified The Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) in Atlanta, GA, who just happens to manage the licensing of trademarked merchandise for many high-profile NCAA schools and is also charged with enforcing the protection of the trademarked Nittany Lions logo of Penn State in particular. A curt Cease and Desist letter was promptly sent to the small high school with the requirement that they immediately remove the logo from all their uniforms, paint over walls with the logo and stop using the logo for any other printed material or clothing.

Penn State Nitanny Lions Logo vs. New Buna High School Cougars Logo

After recovering from the initial shock and revelation of being evil-doing lawbreakers without even realizing it, Buna H.S. staff was faced with a brief phase-out period and scrambled to find a replacement image for their cougar mascot logo in time to have decals printed for next seasons’ helmets as well as walls and field painted and new t-shirts. Not knowing where to turn or who to trust now, they searched for the term, “cougar logo design” and started calling design firms of the more promising designs that they could find contact links for. One of those calls was to Whitestone Design Werks, and while the Buna ISD staff were initially surprised at the typical cost of producing a custom-designed logo, Russell Heistuman, the owner, (that’s me) took pity on their situation and low budget requirements and with dreams of Friday Night Lights, and agreed to modify an existing design to become the new mascot logo for the Buna High School Cougars.

Well, once I got into the project, I couldn’t help but take it much further than just an adaptation of an existing design (I had my own clientele to protect as well). The final design was enthusiastically received by the Buna staff, but they were still cautious about whether or not they were in compliance with the original cease and desist letter regarding the venerable Penn State logo infringement. Once CLC had reviewed the new design and even submitted it to Penn State for their approval too, they were satisfied that the new design was different enough as to not cause any confusion as to whether they were using any derivative version of the original infringed version (in other words: It was OK!).

Buna Independent School District Vans

So now we’re in the process of applying the design to vehicle graphics, painting on walls and applying to custom designs for shirts, sweatshirts, jackets and other items using the awesome site of Prep Sportswear. And now, Buna Independent School District is the proud owner of a mascot logo that no other school has and they are free to register it as a trademark and have for their very own…and even serve up a Cease and Desist letter of their own someday if some other upstart high school team decides to hijack their Cougar logo.

Buna High School T-Shirt Designs

Comments

21 Responses to “Trademark Infringement of Mascot Logo! Texas High School Gets Mauled by Penn State”
  1. Andy Onofrio says:

    With all the opportunity of the post we would like to add our comment regarding logo design. We notice lately a percentage of men and women seeking for automatic logotype creation solutions. Many of them are software packages created for that reason or maybe random tips to help them produce a logo set automatically. Even every website/business proprietor is the greatest person to understand the precise needs of his business, we would like to encourage people to seek professional help through design agencies and logo designers. The costs are really affordable as well as the results stunning. The initial look is essential and people should see it just as one investment rather than being a quick step they need to complete automatically.

  2. Connie says:

    Thank you so much for all your hard work. It is a very professional looking logo. We are so proud of it. I can’t wait for school to start so everyone can see it. Mr. Heistuman you are the greatest and a very talented man.

  3. Jeff Metzler says:

    I’m a Penn State fan and a graphic designer. The Buna High School Cougars logo is FAR SUPERIOR in every way to the hokey looking Penn State mark. Why PSU continues to use such garbage even to the point of infringing on the rights of a small high school to defend the ugly thing is beyond me.

    The color is not the same, it’s close but not the same shade, and the logo isn’t even close in resemblance. We don’t live in a vacuum and a cougar and a mountain lion are much more similar in aspect than these two logos.

    The designer did a great job and the high school should be proud. Penn State should be ashamed -I am for them.

    • Jeff Metzler says:

      I see that the logo on the Buna football helmet is the ripped off one and that the one designed by Heistuman is the replacement. My bad, but the PSU logo looks aweful it’s always reminded me of a salamander hear rather than a mountain lion.

    • Thanks Jeff. But to be fair to Penn State, Buna was guilty of using the same exact Nittany Lion logo (not a variation but the same exact logo–color and all) and Penn State was obligated by law to defend their trademark once they found out about it. Even if it has lost its original stylishness from the 70’s, it is still instantly recognizable and therefore holds a great deal of value to Penn State. I may not have made it clearer in this post by comparing what Buna had been using before going with the new cougar design, but Penn State has reviewed the new cougar logo and agrees that it does not infringe upon the Nittany Lion version of their logo.

      • Erin says:

        Thank you for being fair to Penn State. I am also a web and graphic designer and have always worked by the rule that even if you are a tiny entity with a limited budget, borrowing someone else’s work in any manner is the wrong thing to do. A recent NY Times article on this subject seems to sympathize with the high schools on this subject. And that really surprises me, since using these logos is plagiarism, it is theft.

        Buna High School has gotten a really nice logo out of this experience. Hopefully they also understand now that they did the wrong thing and that is the message they pass along to their students. To move forward with the attitude that Penn State was the bad guy in this whole thing would be unfortunate because it would mean that the they don’t get that they stole something from someone else.

        • Shiloh says:

          Stole something really ? What were we going to do with it anyway make lots of money come on. I have been in buna all my life and love my lil town of 2000 people. We are a small 2a school who are just another small school in texas. So what if it was the nittany lion logo were we making money off of it. Trying to sell it for what it wasn’t just a logo and penn state felt threatened LOL. I have never liked penn state and will forsure never ever support anything they ever do the rest of my life. Mr. Russell i love the new logo i think it looks great. I think u did a wonderful job and thank u alot. Thank you for helping buna a wonderful lil town in texas that was great thing you done .

  4. Angie says:

    From a parent in Buna, Texas I would like to say Thank You. You did an excellent job!! Ours looks better that Penn State…Ha Ha in your face Penn.

  5. Kevin Dougherty says:

    I’m glad Penn State agreed that the new logo is OK, but I’m also surprised. The new logo looks like a slight variation of the Penn State logo. I don’t get how they accepted it.

    • Kevin–design can often be subjective but not really in this case. There are only three similarities: one, both logos are blue and white; two, both logos are stylistic representations of a cougar and three, both are facing the same direction. The new mark, other than those similarities has no other derivative attributes and is a completely new design and will not cause anyone to confuse this with Penn State.

  6. Tyks says:

    I was actually searching online for some cougar-inspired character design for my business and I stumbled upon your site. I think Penn State’s design looks much better than Buna’s in terms of being iconic and streamlined. I have already asked my designers at http://www.mascotdesigncorner.com/ to refer to Penn State’s mascot design as a character design reference. The first draft looks great but I used a serpent as the character instead. I think Buna’s design is a little bit clattered, too many design elements within the logo. And isn’t it odd that both have the same color scheme?

  7. Brett says:

    i belive it is perfectly fhe to change the logo because it was penn states team logo and they did not have the right license to reproduce it.

  8. Bryant Blanton says:

    I’m only confused about one thing.. At the beginning of the article, it said that a local vendor supplied the high school with the logo, stating that it was different enough from PSU’s logo to not cause any issues. If i’m not mistaken, a logo has to be 20% different (i think) from the trademarked logo in order to avoid infringement. It also said later in the article that they were in fact using PSU’s EXACT logo instead (colors and all). I am confused with:
    A) were they really using the EXACT same PSU logo, or just a VERY similar one?
    B) how much different does a logo actually have to be in order to NOT infringe on the trademarked logo?
    C) how/why would the vendor think the logo he gave them was ok?
    Thanks in advance for your clarification and help! interesting article and great logo!

    • Justin says:

      Bryant,

      I’ve worked as a trademark attorney for the last 7 years and I can assure you, there is no such thing as the 20% rule…or any ___% difference for that matter.

      The law is simply “is there a likelihood of confusion?” So to answer your question about “how different” a logo needs to be…the answer is: different enough so that there is no likelihood of confusion. Check out this website for the factors that go into that decision:

      http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/likelihood-confusion-how-do-you-determine-trademark-infringing.html

      Generally, if you hire someone to create a design for you, it is a good idea to get them to provide a warranty that the design is not in violation of anyone else’s trademark and/or copyright — as well as to get them to provide you with indemnity in the event you do get sued. Of course, if they are a mom and pop print shop, the indemnity is only going to be worth their ability to pay, which is likely not much.

  9. Christie-Ann Fao says:

    In my opinion the first logo designer was wrong. He should have known that modifying a logo that already exists isn’t acceptable. The action that was placed on Buna wasn’t fair but I am glad it was sorted out. It is important to protect intellectual property rights because you wouldn’t want someone else to steal your ideas.

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