Penn State causes Ala. school to change logo

September 15, 2011 10:55:17 AM PDT
A couple of years ago, Prattville Christian Academy was searching for a new athletics logo when head football coach Grey Powell spotted one he liked.

It was while Penn State played.

It was the classic outline of the head of a Nittany Lion -- long the Penn State athletics emblem -- and Powell thought that, with a few tweaks and changes, the Lion could be transformed into a Panther, which is PCA's official mascot.

So, the school hired a graphic artist to make some adjustments to the Penn State logo.

Apparently, not enough changes.

Two weeks ago, PCA officials received a letter from a law firm representing Penn State, asking the small private school to cease and desist using the logo, because it was "confusingly similar" to the one the Nittany Lions use.

"I was surprised, because we thought we had changed it enough," Powell said. "But they said even though we changed more than what was required, it still was confusingly similar enough to cause problems."

PCA has no plans to turn this into a legal battle. School president Ron Mitchell said the PCA board didn't debate long on whether to challenge PSU's legal claims.

"This is a blip on our radar, no big deal," Mitchell said. "We felt like, under the law, they had a valid argument. And it's not like we've been using this logo for 20 years.

"We've had it for two years, so it's easier if we just change it. That's the best decision. That's what we'll do."

Carelessness or a disregard for trademark law didn't bring about this situation.

When PCA first adopted its current logo, it believed it was honoring the law by making noticeable changes to the Penn State logo -- such as shrinking the ears of the lion, altering its jaw line and making the entire head smaller.

Upon sending it to two national decal companies, PCA officials were told that the changes might not meet trademark requirements. So, PCA changed it more, removing the standard, curved, white line behind the now-panther's head and inserting the letters P-C-A.

"They told us that was enough -- that we'd changed about 50 percent of it at that time," Powell said. "And these are companies that deal with this sort of thing all the time."

Still, Penn State disagreed. And not out of pettiness.

Another stipulation of trademark law is that a trademarked logo or product must be protected by the manufacturer of that or it risks losing its trademark because of "genericity."

There are several examples of this occurring.

One of the most notable instances involves the Thermos Co.

Because people all over the country began referring to the small container that keeps cold liquids cold as a "thermos," the company eventually lost its trademark rights to the name.

"It's not about one high school in Alabama," Penn State vice president of university relations Bill Mahon said in an email. "It's about all the schools all over the country that have illegally been using a valuable Penn State trademark known around the world for decades as if it was suddenly their own.

"The law also requires that those who hold a trademark act to protect that trademark, or risk losing it."

Mahon also provided several examples of Penn State stopping other football programs from all over the country from using its logo. PCA officials have no beef with Penn State.

Mitchell said the Penn State attorneys were very reasonable with their demands, allowing the Panthers until the end of the year to make the change.

"We understood their issues and we'll fix it on our end," Mitchell said. "They handled it very well, I thought."

The only issue, of course, is the expense of changing the logo. But as luck would have it, even that shouldn't be a big deal for PCA.

The most prominent place the logo is displayed is on the side of the football team's helmets. But those are just stickers, which would be peeled off and replaced on most helmets at the end of the year anyway. Aside from that, its most notable presence is on the school's baseball scoreboard.

It doesn't appear on the front of the team's jerseys or on the school's basketball court or on the cheerleaders' uniforms.

"The bottom line is that it stinks because it's a pretty cool logo and we hate to lose it," Powell said. "It's not that big of a deal, only being two years old. We can replace it."

The school has asked three different graphic designers to provide a new, unique logo. PCA officials and students will choose the winner.

--- Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com


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