PREVIOUS COVERAGE | FSU to Southeast: Nix the Seminole logo

nalund@bradenton.comAugust 26, 2010 

MANATEE — Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School and the Atlanta Falcons share one.

So do Lakewood High School in Saint Petersburg and Michigan State.

But Southeast High and Florida State may not share theirs for much longer. The Collegiate Licensing Company, which handles the FSU trademark, recently discovered Southeast’s Seminole is nearly identical to the university’s 63-year-old logo.

The Bradenton high school is breaking the trademark law, according to a cease-and-desist letter sent to the school from Jim Aronowitz, associate general counsel at the CLC, which deals with more than three dozen cases of collegiate trademark infringement by high schools every year.

The use of the Seminoles name, logo, slogans and mascot may cause consumers to “erroneously believe that the university authorized the Southeast High School to use (them),” Aronowitz wrote in the Aug. 16 letter, which also states that it takes away FSU’s identity.

Stationery, athletic uniforms, signs and scoreboards. The CLC says they all need to go.

“They don’t want us using the logo, the spear design, or the word Noles. They want it off the jerseys, off the letterhead, off the gym floor, which we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars to do,” said Manatee County school board Attorney John Bowen, who’s handling the case with district Attorney Scott Martin.

The local Noles are ready for war.

“They’d like for us to stop using it, but our desired result is to reach an agreement with them to continue its use,” Bowen said.

So the district’s legal department began dusting off old year books Wednesday to determine how long the Seminole logo has been around.

So far, they determined it went back as far as 1981, but they’ll continue researching, Bowen said.

Southeast isn’t the only school that received that letter from the CLC on behalf of FSU. Other schools across the country did, too, but Aronowitz would not say how many or which ones.

A “Seminoles” search Wednesday night at www.c2cschools.com showed a handful of high schools across the country with the nickname, including Westside High School in Macon, Ga., and Florida High School in Tallahassee, the home of Florida State.

Sherri Dye, director of trademark licensing for FSU, said the university’s athletic teams have been known as the Seminoles since 1947.

“Since that time, a strong association to the university has been created through the use of its nationally recognized and distinctive symbol,” Dye said. “Our hope is to work with each school to encourage the development of their own unique identity, while protecting our own.”

But why now?

FSU has known about Southeast’s logo for years, Bowen said.

“They’ve been using it for decades. Bobby Bowden’s been down here many times, and Southeast graduate Peter Warrick is soon to be inducted into FSU’s hall of fame,” Bowen said.

But Aronowitz said he couldn’t comment on that as both schools are in negotiations.

He also couldn’t say specifically when or how the university learned the school’s designs and logo were so similar.

“High schools using collegiate marks has been an issue for some time,” he said. “The fact that high schools are having their games broadcast on national television and that their products including shirts, hats and what-have-you can be found online in the retail market is something that has become more prevalent recently, and it’s certainly an additional cause for concern as it relates to them using collegiate logos.”

A vast majority of the time, Aronowitz said, both parties negotiate a phase out.

“Our goal here is not to cause any kind of financial strain on the high school; it’s one to enforce trademark rights our client’s have,” he said. “In doing so, we want to work out a resolution that’s fair.”

If a phase out takes place, Bowen said, the district hopes CLC gives them adequate time to do so.

“We’re hoping if we can do things like not remove (the logo) from the gym floor until its refinished, or when we run out of letterhead, or when jerseys are replaced,” Bowen said.

But Southeast senior Joey Muldoon said he doesn’t want to see that happen.

“I think that’s just ridiculous,” said the 17-year-old baseball player, who has the logo imprinted on his team’s baseball cap. “We’ve always had that as our symbol. It will change the morale of the school as a whole.”

But others, including FSU graduate Colleen Glenn, praised her alma mater for the move.

“Good for them. I’ve wondered about that for sometime,” said Glenn. “You don’t take the Nike symbol and put it on your own shirt. It’s just wrong.”

Niles Williams, who taught for 39 years at Southeast, said he didn’t know exactly when the school started using the logo, but he guessed it was in the late 1970s or early ’80s.

He blamed FSU’s move on money.

“This all revolves around a big “S” with a line through it. A dollar sign,” said Williams, who started teaching in 1964. “I can’t believe they’d create this ill will by asking us to stop using a mascot the school has used for years. Pitiful. You’d think Florida State would be proud to have a high school use their logo.

“Well, since Southeast uses Florida Gators colors — royal blue, orange and white — maybe we should just change our name to the Southeast Gators and have it over with,” he said, then laughed. “That will solve the problem.”

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