Innovative Patent & Intellectual Property Attorneys

Row the Boat and Ski-U-Mah – Trademarks, Copyrights, Tee-shirts, and Licensing (Part 3)

| Nov 23, 2020 | Intellectual Property

Previous posts on this blog discussed the intellectual property issue regarding Coach P.J. Fleck’s ability to bring the “Row the Boat” slogan to the University of Minnesota. The resolution to the licensing issue was ultimately made through negotiations.

Who came up with the “Row The Boat” slogan and how does it fit in with existing U of M slogans?

The “Row The Boat” slogan was coined by Coach Fleck following the death of his infant son. When Coach Fleck came to U of M, the University intended to blend “Row The Boat” with the University’s own “Ski-U-Mah” slogan, as a means of “embracing the past to create the future.”

Who now owns the “Row The Boat” trademark and how was this negotiated?

The “Row The Boat” trademark is now owned by Harlan Sports, which is the company that Coach Fleck’s agent founded. Western Michigan entered into a trademark assignment agreement after Coach Fleck was hired by the University of Minnesota. Western Michigan agreed to give up ownership of the slogan, which gave Coach Fleck the ability to bring his trademarked phrase to the University of Minnesota for its use. The slogan is now used on U of M uniforms, products and even for outside sales of Caribou Coffee products.

How is Coach Fleck permitted to use the “Row the Boat” trademark?

Per the terms of their agreement, Fleck is now permitted to register “rowtheboat” on internet domains for personal use, and to use the slogan outside of the university, as long as the university receives prior notification and the university’s own trademarks are not used.

Coach Fleck is also permitted to use the Ski-U-Mah slogan and university colors on the “Row the Boat” designs as long as doing so is related to his duties as a coach. While Coach Fleck is not permitted to sublicense the use of the design to third parties, the University of Minnesota did give him royalty rights.

“Row the Boat” highlights the complexities of sports slogans and intellectual property

It is important to note that, due to intellectual property rights, just because a logo or slogan is on the Internet does not mean it is free for the public to use for purposes such as selling products on third-party websites such as Etsy. Per Etsy policy, it can remove or disable access to such products on its website. However, requests for removal can only come from intellectual property owners or their authorized agents, not competitors. Making bad faith statements or material misrepresentations about infringement can be considered perjury and can lead to serious legal penalties. So, when looking for merchandise bearing the slogan of your favorite university or professional sports team, keep in mind that due to intellectual property rights, it is important to only buy from licensed sellers rather than trying to buy products from unlicensed sellers online.


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