The “Row the Boat” mantra of Coach P.J. Fleck and the ancient Ski-U-Mah of the University of Minnesota football team are ubiquitous. However, these phrases have a complex legal history with regards to ownership. After all, everyone says them, so how can they be owned?
The “Row The Boat” issue and intellectual property
Coach P.J. Fleck is credited as the creator of the slogan “Row The Boat.” However, his employer at the time, Western Michigan’s board of trustees was the entity that secured a trademark for this slogan in 2013. To bring the slogan with him to the University of Minnesota, Coach Fleck agreed to donate $10,000 annually for five years to Western Michigan’s scholarship funds. He also agreed to his previous commitment to donate $50,000 towards renovations of Western Michigan’s football center.
When the slogan was first created, the university had to own the trademark and licensing rights, or else it could not be soled as a university logo due to NCAA rules. However, Coach Fleck never agreed to giving the University these rights and was never paid for the use of the slogan. Coach Fleck has expressed a desire to purchase the slogan and take it with him to the University of Minnesota.
What about the Ski-U-Mah slogan?
Coach Fleck would like to use the “Row the Boat” slogan along with the University of Minnesota’s “Ski-U-Mah” slogan. However, this is dependent on Western Michigan allowing him to take the slogan with him to U of M. When researching the meaning of U of M’s “Ski-U-Mah” slogan, Coach Fleck was pleased to find that Ski-U-Mah’s origins were founded in canoe racing. He has used both phrases in his Twitter bio and the “Row the Boat” mantra has been picked up by U of M fans.
Who really owns these phrases?
As this shows, just because a slogan is widely used by football fans, slogans can be trademarked and licensed, meaning the rights to use the slogan officially belong to the trademark and license holder. Future posts on this blog will address licensing, trademarking and how the “Row the Boat” intellectual property issues were resolved.