By Chadd Cripe
© 2011 Idaho Statesman
I have a question-and-answer story with Rachael Bickerton, Boise State’s director of trademark licensing and enforcement, in Bronco Blitz on Saturday.
One of the subjects we discussed was how Boise State handles its trademark of the blue turf.
“It’s a very key piece of our identity,” Bickerton said. “… If you don’t protect your trademarks and enforce your trademarks, you could lose them.”
Some of this will appear in Saturday’s paper, but not all:
Q: Can you explain the trademark on the blue turf?
A: “We have a federal trademark registration for the color blue as it applies to artificial turf in a stadium. … We would argue that if you’re selling a T-shirt that says ‘blue turf,’ you’re clearly trying to trade off Boise State’s reputation.”
Q: What is the policy for other schools using blue turf?
A: “When we first went to federally trademark it, it was around the time another school, the University of New Haven, installed their blue field. We didn’t register the trademark with the intention of stopping other people. It was to protect something that Boise State and the state of Idaho had invested in. We feel, and I think most people agree, that the blue turf has become synonymous with our program like Georgia’s ‘between the hedges,’ Notre Dame’s Touchdown Jesus and Nike’s swoosh. We sought to formalize that trademark with a federal trademark registration in 2008. We worked with the University of New Haven and entered into a license, so effectively they could have their blue field and we were able to protect that trademark.”
Q: Do you charge other schools for a blue turf license?
A: “We give a license for free. We have agreements that they won’t liken themselves to Boise State so there’s no confusion. (The University of New Haven) calls theirs a blue and yellow turf to make it clear and distinct. … The first high school was Barrow in Alaska and then there’s been a whole number since. A lot of them now contact us ahead of time. We just say, ‘Don’t imply that you’re related to Boise State, but good luck with your football program and we hope that the kids play well on the blue.’ ”
Q: Do you tell them not to call it blue turf?
A: “It just goes back to us saying they can’t merchandise themselves as if they’re using Boise State’s trademarks. With most of them that have contacted us we have talked about compromises. They need to be very clear their merchandise is about their high school and it can’t be related or have people associate it with Boise State. It comes down to the design and how it’s used.”
It was an interesting conversation with Bickerton about how licensing works and the growth Boise State has experienced. The school generated $1.13 million in licensing revenue in 2010-11, a 50 percent increase over the previous year. The school netted $900,000 on that revenue and split it between academics and athletics.
Here are a few other tidbits from Bickerton that didn’t make the newspaper version:
Q: What do you do on game days?
A: “During tailgates, I walk around to ensure that no one is selling unlicensed products in the tailgate area. Last year we had some bootleggers who came up from L.A. with boxes and boxes of T-shirts. We worked with the police to get that stopped. Then there’s also people who just don’t know the rules. I will work with them to get them licensed so that they can sell elsewhere. We don’t actually permit sales on campus unless it’s through the Bronco Shop.”
Q: What’s your favorite item?
A: “The Boise State gnome. I absolutely love that gnome. I don’t know if it’s because I’m English or because it’s one of the first things I licensed. He has a friend this year, we have two sorts of gnomes now. There’s a Western-style gnome that has just been released.”
Q: How often do you turn down license requests?
A: “I turn quite a lot down. We’re turning down a lot of new license requests if they are for products we already have with other licensees. … Sometimes things are just distasteful and I have to explain that we can’t license that because it’s not in keeping with how Boise State wants to be presented.”
For those questioning the story Bickerton told about bootleggers, she provided more detail:
"It was Boise City Police and (Collegiate Licensing Co.) who apprehended the bootleggers. I had seen the shirts on campus in the tailgate area and thought that weren't licensed because I didn't recognize the design. The design had 4 different institution's trademarks on them - Pac10; the WAC; Oregon State and Boise State. The two trademark licensing directors from Oregon State were also with me at that game and they didn't recognize the design either. In addition, the shirts listed the players names, which we are not permitted to do on commercial merchandize under NCAA rules, which is another indication of bootleg product.
"So, I texted our CLC rep, who was with BPD to be on the look out for them. CLC and BPD found the people selling the shirts (off campus) and sought a voluntary surrender of the shirts (whereby BPD asks the sellers to surrender the shirts and cease selling), to which they complied."
She even provided a copy of the report produced by CLC.