University Trademarks: How Licensing Has Changed the Game for Collegiate Institutions

How often have you been drawn to a college mascot or logo as you walk through Wal-Mart, flip through television channels, or read the news? Art, design and the business of branding have provided ingenious ways for us to visually recognize and mentally classify images that are a part of our world, attaching meanings, such as emotions, memories, and ideas, to the institutions and groups that are in the world around us. Collegiate institutions have similarly utilized trademark licensing to generate revenue and protect their symbols.

Universities across the globe have recognized the potential market of collegiate merchandising, which is an industry that has grossed several billions dollars each year. The foundation of the industry is based on mutually beneficial relationships between the university and the manufacturer or vendor.

Within a licensing agreement, a manufacturer may be granted rights to use the university’s name, sports mascot, crest, logo, or seal on specified objects for production and sale. In return, the university receives royalty payments, which can be allocated for any number of university uses. This relationship between universities and manufacturers and vendors allows collegiate institutions to increase revenue while providing additional value to manufacturers’ products by targeting specific buyers to improve sales.

Creating licensing contracts with manufacturers and vendors is not only beneficial for universities in the form of revenue, but also, collegiate institutions have the opportunity to promote the university’s image. When appearing on manufactured goods, the symbols that represent universities become part of the general public’s everyday life.

Universities often depend on their strong reputation and identifiable marks to maintain a high standing in the public and among alumni because, while a logo may be the visual representation of a university, it also invokes thoughts and feelings about the university as well. By generating licensing contracts with reliable companies that produce quality products, universities are able to uphold their reputation.

Quality control is essential because, through the Lanhan Act, licensors are held responsible for the control of their mark with risk of abandonment or loss if used improperly. Another aspect of maintaining a strong merchandising of intellectual property requires the monitoring of infringements.

Unlicensed merchandise most often indicates as a lower quality of product. Therefore, counterfeiting not only undermines the licensing operation of the college, but also, threatens the desired image of the university.

The monitoring of a university’s intellectual property is not limited to commercial licensing agreements, but also includes censoring the use of marks used by university-affiliated organizations. Keeping in mind that quality control is an essential aspect of licensing operations and maintaining legal rights to their IP, collegiate institutions must carefully field all requests of “in-house” IP use by departments and organizations.

While such groups are not required to pay royalties, they are still required to submit an application for approval, ensuring that any use of the trademark will be done in a favorable manner. On the other hand, some universities have eliminated the option for student organizations to use university trademarks on materials or merchandise. These measures have been adopted by

some universities to simplify licensing operations while simultaneously limiting liabilities of content or actions carried out by student organization.

As we come to the end of March Madness, the prevalence of university trademark licensing is splashed across news stories, flat screen TVs, and advertisements while one of the United States’ largest sporting events of the year promotes collegiate institutions across the country. Universities who establish a strong licensing operation stand to benefit from more promotion, increased revenue, and quality control if operated the right way.

With a billion dollar industry as strong as ever, it is important for institutions to see how they can improve their licensing operations to increase revenue and protect the university’s integrity.

To find out how Dependable Solutions, Inc. can help protect your IP, streamline your licensing processes, and stay front and center of your fans contact us! Visit us at or call us for a demo at 877-289-8431.

Jennings, John. “University Trademark Licensing: Creating Value Through a ‘Win-Win’ Agreement.” World Intellectual Property Organization,


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