BRADENTON — Southeast High School’s rivalry with Florida State University over whether Southeast can use the Seminoles logo heated up Friday, with Manatee Superintendent Tim McGonegal recommending the school board reject FSU’s proposal to settle the dispute.
“There is absolutely no threat that the public will be confused by the two marks,” school board attorney John Bowen said Friday. “One being a major university and one being a high school. That is the basis for rejecting the agreement.”
FSU officials in August objected to Southeast’s use of its Seminole logo, which bears a resemblance to the university’s logo, albeit with a different color scheme. The Collegiate Licensing Co., which handles the Florida State University trademark, said Southeast was infringing on FSU’s trademark and demanded the high school nix the use of the Seminole head logo, the spear and even the word “Noles” — a move Manatee school district officials say could cost almost $100,000 to implement.
After receiving pressure from alumni and others, FSU said it was willing to negotiate an agreement with the Manatee school district. But last month, Bowen said the negotiations were not leading to a suitable agreement.
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“We want them to recognize there is no infringement, and they should not be coming after us and should stop going after other schools, too,” Bowen said Friday. “Look at the NFL — they encourage schools to use their logo. They want youth to be interested in football and pro football.”
In a statement released Friday, FSU president Eric Barron said the proposed deal:
n Provides the high school with a legal license to use FSU marks.
n Grants a five-year license period, which would be renewable.
n Waives the university’s normal licensing fees.
n Takes no action against Southeast for possible prior infringements.
“Over the years, Florida State has developed a valuable ownership interest in its trademarks,” Barron said. “The typical resolution for such matters of licensing infringement is to serve the unlicensed user with a cease and desist order. However, Florida State would like to work collaboratively with public schools in Florida. It is the university’s sincere hope that the community and school board of Manatee County will recognize the opportunity that has been presented for Southeast High School to continue to use the marks in an amicable manner without embarking on a path toward costly litigation.”
Bowen acknowledged FSU may sue the district if the board rejects its proposal — a move that would cost taxpayers. But he did not have a specific estimate for potential litigation.
“We do know it (the cost) is going to be substantial since both sides are funded by the taxpayers,” he said.
Barron said the university is disappointed that the school board might reject its offer.
“In past discussions, Florida State provided the school board with a generous opportunity to continue to use these marks for the next five years at zero cost to avoid a costly path of litigation for both organizations,” he said in the university statement.
Collegiate Licensing has also sent out letters to 400 other schools nationwide objecting to the use of their logos, Bowen said. He was not aware how many, if any, had either entered into an agreement or stopped using a logo.
Jim Aronowitz, associate general counsel at Collegiate Licensing, could not be reached for comment Friday.
From the start, CLC’s initial demands left Manatee school officials puzzled as to why FSU decided to confront them about the issue now. They say there’s no way the university hadn’t known about the shared logo.
In 1988, when Southeast’s football team went to the state championship in Niceville, FSU allowed the team to practice on its field.
And in 1996, Southeast’s marching band played during halftime at the Sugar Bowl game between FSU and the Florida Gators.
Southeast Principal Katherine Smith said Friday that FSU’s contention comes at a time when she’d rather be focusing on student grades and FCAT performance.
“This should be something a college and a high school want to share,” she said. “Our kids love our logo, they love our history with FSU. I don’t understand why they want to damage that relationship.” Some Southeast students are standing up on behalf of their logo. They recently created a Facebook page, “Fight to Keep Southeast High School the “Noles.” As of Friday evening, more than 2,240 people “liked” the page.
Pascal Wagner, a former Southeast student who now attends FSU, said it shouldn’t matter that the logos are similar.
“Personally, I don’t care, and other students, I don’t feel that they know, and even if they did, I don’t think they would care,” said Wagner, 20.
Diego Corzo, another Southeast grad who attends FSU, said if his university really wanted to fight for the logo they should have done it immediately after Southeast established it years ago.
“After 30 years they want to be like, ‘Hey don’t use the logo or symbol.’ It’s ridiculous,” the 20-year-old student said. “We are so far away from each other, had I not have attended Southeast I would not have known there were Seminoles there.”
The school board is slated to consider the proposal Monday night during its regular meeting.
Natalie Alund, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095.