CNJ photo illustration: Kevin Wilson A shot of the Powercat at Clovis High School, top, is far from the only use of the logo across Clovis. The school uses the logo rights, held by Kansas State University, for a small fee, but there are gray areas of copyright enforcement.
In 1989, an art professor named Tom Bookwalter was tasked to draw a new logo for Bill Snyder’s football team.
Suffice it to say, the Powercat stuck — both at Kansas State University, and Clovis. As it is in Manhattan, Kans., the Powercat is everywhere you look among Clovis’ 38,000 residents — from “Beast of the East” billboards to storefronts to T-shirts to window decals.
More than 20 years later, logos like the Powercat fell into gray areas of community support and trademark infringement:
• Florida State University last month reached a settlement with schools in Rockdale County, Ga., for two schools’ logos with striking resemblance to FSU’s Seminole.
• The University of Florida, through a licensing company, last year sent letters to a pair of high schools in Palm Beach, Fla.
• McKenzie High, a Class 1A school in Tennessee, was forced to retire its Colonel Reb mascot after the University of Mississippi got involved.
Those battles haven’t been a concern of Clovis Municipal Schools, because it worked with Kansas State to use the logo in the early 1990s. The district once paid a symbolic $1 per year, Clovis High Athletic Director Brian Stacy said, but now buys rights on a multi-year basis because it’s not worth the processing costs to annually redo the paperwork.
“Basically, we can use the logo on anything printable — paper, programs, shirts, anything of that nature,” Stacy said. “We can use it on scoreboards, we can use it on insignias.”
Those rights also extend to booster clubs, which farm out many printing jobs to small businesses.
“We try to utilize those mom and pops with everything we’re doing,” Stacy said. “I’m glad that they are (in business). They’re helping keep the cost down of what we can do. I don’t have the luxury of having a retail location in my office.”
The relatively free use comes with a few small conditions for CMS:
• The Powercat on the floor of Rock Staubus Gymnasium includes four painted bolts, Stacy said, because, “If you’re going to have anything that’s televised, there has to be a discerning factor.”
There’s no distinction made for football fields, however, since the average person wouldn’t confuse Leon Williams Stadium for KSU’s 50,000-seat Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
• Another condition is that CMS helps uphold KSU’s trademark.
The college recently contracted with Holland, Mich.-based Licensing Resource Group. The basic function of LRG is to protect the trademark of the Powercat and the logos for roughly 180 other colleges and universities.
Vice President and Legal Counsel Michael Van Wieren understands that legal action can be a sensitive subject — but the heavy discount for logo rights does have a price tag.
“A lot of universities are going after high schools that use their mark,” Van Wieren said. “What they expect from that high school is to ensure that community polices itself. We place that responsibility on the high school.”
If a group outside of the school wants to sell items with the Powercat, Van Wieren said, it must submit an application to LRG and show that it follows standards that include insurance and sweatshop-free products.
Designs are pre-approved by LRG, which receives 10 percent of the wholesale cost (or retail cost, if no raw cost is determined) when an item is sold.
Duane Chase of Sir Logo, which creates window decals and other products with the Wildcat logo, said he’s in the process of applying to LRG. He has previously worked with Kansas State when they handled the trademark, and he’s never had a design rejected.
Crimson Designs has been in operation less than a year. It’s done plenty of work with CMS, including coaches shirts for various sports. When a company like Crimson does those things, owner Mitch Gray said, it works as an agent of those organizations and has the same use rights.
But it may have come into some gray area after a “Dancing With the Stars” episode, where Kendra Wilkinson — a DWTS competitor and wife of CHS standout Hank Baskett — expressed disappointment that a billboard of her husband was taken down.
Gray said there were numerous opinions around Clovis — and he didn’t want to hash all of them out — but he figured he could create T-shirts that said, “Clovis Loves Hank and Kendra” and sell them for little, if any profit, because he wanted to show there were many Clovis residents who supported the Baskett family.
Crimson Designs has sold 37 of those $4 shirts as of Friday, and “we might be upside-down on that” financially once shipping, labor and materials is added to the $2 cost of a raw shirt.
The shirt, which was not an authorized project from Clovis Municipal Schools, featured a Powercat logo is emblazoned with “Wildcat for Life” underneath.
He figured with the “Clovis Loves” T-shirt that he’d be on safe ground, because Clovis High wouldn’t waste the effort trying to shut down a message that supported its celebrity athlete. And if anybody complains that a product doesn’t exemplify their ideals, Gray said, they don’t have to buy that product.
“We know that not everybody loves Hank and not everybody loves Kendra,” Gray said. “But there’s not anything that everybody in Clovis is going to like.”
It would be one thing, Gray said, if he was clearing $150,000 a year.
“That doesn’t keep me in business,” Gray said. “If you think that’s going to keep you in business … good luck.”
It’s quite another, in his mind, to get chased down over a $4 T-shirt using the Powercat when it’s drawn on numerous store windows by employees who have never heard of LRG.
Still, he’s planning to leave the logo out if he does a new design. You can never be too safe, he figures, especially when he reads stories like the one about the University of Texas threatening legal action on a Gardner Edgerton High School because its Trailblazer logo had similarities to UT’s Longhorn.
One suit like that, Gray said, could completely take out his small T-shirt shop, which could fit in a Winnebago and still features the sign from the preceding China Star restaurant that has long since moved to North Prince Street.
Stacy said that while he’s still looking into national chain stores that feature Wildcat gear, he and school attorneys often have better things to do than chase down small T-shirt shops that might be skirting rules, or go after businesses that use the Wildcat name. Those businesses, Stacy said, are often started by CHS graduates, and they’re some of the most generous donors to the school and its booster clubs.
There are two businesses in Clovis with “Wildcat” in the name — Wildcat Laserwash and Wildcat Carpet Cleaning.
The logo is unaltered for Wildcat Laserwash, which advertises that part of its proceeds go back to college scholarships for CHS students. Attempts to contact representatives of the car wash business were unsuccessful.
When Deke Hatley started his carpet cleaning business, he had a friend in another state who started a similar business, and was threatened with a lawsuit unless he changed his logo 20 to 25 percent.
“Just to cover my bases, whenever I went into business, I took the Wildcat logo and I changed it up,” Hatley said. “If you look at my logo and you look at their logo, it’s different.”
Hatley’s Wildcat has protruding ears and a “goatee” tick on the bottom.
Van Wieren didn’t want to comment on a case unrelated to LRG, but he said the percentage argument is tough for plaintiffs and defendants alike.
“How do you put a percent change on a piece of art? It’s really all subjective,” Van Wieren said. “The legal standard is, would it confuse the average consumer?”