Univ. of Ala. Bd. of Trs. v. New Life Art, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Trademarks
  • Date Filed: 06-11-2012
  • Case #: 09-16412, 10-10092
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Martin, Anderson, Schlesinger
  • Full Text Opinion

Rights to a trademark were not upheld when there was an ambiguous agreement and First Amendment rights did not outweigh public interest in free expression.

Opinion (Anderson): Daniel A. Moore (“Moore”) has been painting scenes depicting University of Alabama (“Alabama”) football players since 1979, and signed licensing agreements covering some of his works that expired in 1999, some of which were ambiguous. Although Alabama’s bookstore still carried his unlicensed calendars, in 2002 Moore was sued by Alabama under the Lantham Act for trademark infringement. The parties cross-motioned for summary judgment, which the district court granted to Moore in regards to the paintings and prints, and to Alabama in regards to the calendars, mugs, and other products. The parties appealed. Alabama asserted that Moore needed to obtain permission to paint the helmet and jersey designs, as well as the crimson and white color scheme identifying the team. The court determined that there was only some likelihood of confusion since Moore’s signature was prominent on the works, and Moore never explicitly misled consumers about the source of the items. The court used these facts in the Rogers balancing test, and concluded that the public interest in avoiding consumer confusion did not outweigh the public interest in free expression. Thus, the Court AFFIRMED summary judgment in regards to the paintings and prints, and REVERSED in regards to the calendars.

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