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Cougars force West Texas high school to sack logo

A high school in West Texas will have to dump its school logo because it’s too similar to the Washington State University Cougar.

Cooper High School probably will spend tens of thousands of dollars to replace the cougar head that has adorned its uniforms, scoreboards, gym floors, hallways and student IDs for more than 15 years, Principal Gail Gregg said.

“Honestly, it’s a tough pill to swallow,” Gregg said. “How many different ways can you portray a cougar head?”

The Cooper logo strongly resembles the WSU logo, and it appears to be a nearly exact match for earlier versions of the logo used on Cougar football helmets.

Alyce Anderson, program administrative manager for WSU’s trademark licensing, said Cooper High is the third high school this year that WSU has discovered using logos similar to the university’s. She said that allowing others to essentially copy the Cougar would dilute its effectiveness as a symbol of WSU.

“In building a brand, it’s important to be consistent in the use of our (trade)mark, and who it represents,” she said.

A WSU alumnus spotted the Cooper logo earlier this year and alerted the university. By early October, Gregg had received a certified letter from Collegiate Licensing Co., which represents WSU and scores of other schools on trademark matters.

“Honestly, I wasn’t sure how serious it was, so I ignored that,” Gregg said. “I got another one about two weeks later.”

A representative of Collegiate Licensing couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. But James D. Aronowitz, associate general counsel for the company, told the Abilene Reporter-News that such logo disputes arise “fairly often,” and that the logos need not be an exact match for issues of trademark infringement to arise.

“The schools we represent are very reasonable in working with the high schools to resolve issues,” he told the newspaper. “We’re very cognizant of the fact that there may be financial considerations at play here, and the goal is to limit that.”

WSU’s logo was designed in 1936 by student Randall Johnson, and it’s been modified here and there over the years – most recently in 2000, when a crest was added to the symbol. But the basic essence of the cougar’s head remains the same. Johnson died in February.

The origin of the Cooper logo is unclear. Apparently it was used during the 1960s and ‘70s, then dropped for a couple decades, only to be brought back in the early 1990s, Gregg said. There is a strong resemblance to the current WSU logo, and an issue of trademark infringement doesn’t have to involve an exact duplication.

The cost of replacing the logo will be significant, Gregg said. The school recently bought a new “Jumbotron-style” scoreboard for its 15,000-seat football stadium – this is Texas, remember – and replacing the logo on that alone could run $8,000, he said. The newly finished gym floor also features the logo prominently, he said.

“It’s everywhere, my goodness,” Gregg said. “It’s on decals on the back of our vehicles. It identifies us in west Texas and beyond that.”

But Gregg said he and other school officials contacted attorneys and found they didn’t have much of a case.

“They advised us that if we fought it, there’s a slim chance we’d win, and if we got there it’d cost us more in legal fees than it would to replace all the logos,” he said.

He said WSU will allow Cooper time to replace the logo.

The school has hired an artist and a trademark attorney to make sure its new logo is all clear, and it expects to have the transition mostly complete within a year.

Anderson said WSU understands it’s not simple to make the change.

“We have agreed to be flexible,” she said. “We understand it’s a financial hardship.”

Negotiations between the Texas high school and WSU have been positive, Cooper said.

“They’ve been great to work with,” she said. “They understand our point of view.”

Some of the school’s fans have been less understanding. The news was reported first on Thursday in the Abilene Reporter-News, and the story has drawn a lot of comments from Cooper fans online – most in opposition to WSU’s action.

“You have got to be kidding. Pay more attention to your lousy 5-7 university football team and less attention to a great high school in Texas,” one commenter wrote.

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