A poultry farm in Canton found itself in legal hot water last month, when Ohio State filed a federal lawsuit to compel the organization to stop using the university’s popular ‘O-H-I-O’ cheer on its product packaging.
Almost anyone who has ever attended an OSU sporting event has heard those four letters shouted in a variety of ways by enthusiastic students and fans supporting the Buckeyes. In 2009, Park Poultry, Inc. paid to use the recognizable cheer on its products. The $45,000 deal gave the farm the right to use OSU’s athletic logo and other trademarked material.
When the agreement expired, the farm stopped using the logo, but continued to put the cheer on its packages, along with chickens dressed in scarlet and gray, according to a 41-page suit filed in federal court last month.
The successor to Park Poultry is at the receiving end of the lawsuit seeking royalties for the use of OSU’s intellectual property.
“Repeated attempts by OSU to have Park Poultry cease their activities and pay OSU a royalty for the use Park had made after the license expired were not successful,” said Joseph Dreitler, a lawyer hired to represent OSU, in an email. “Thus the school was left with no choice but to enforce its legal rights in court.”
Case Farms purchased most of Park Poultry’s operations earlier this year, according to the Canton Repository. It is unclear if Case Farms continued to use the same packaging, and representatives from Case did not return multiple phone calls for comment.
OSU has one of the 10 most profitable athletic programs in the United States, according to the “Sports Business Journal,” with promotional licensing accounting for nearly $9 million a year.
With the federal lawsuit, Dreitler said OSU is trying to protect its brand.
The university is “seeking royalties and an injunction to make certain that they not use Ohio State’s trademarks in the future,” he said.
However, many OSU students thought the university was going too far.
“You’re allowed to write O-H-I-O, does it really matter where you put the hyphen?” said Matt Rowan, a fifth-year in criminology. “It doesn’t seem like it’s hurting anyone.”
Andrew Forbes, a fifth-year in engineering, agreed.
“I don’t understand all the legal mumbo-jumbo,” he said. “But if they’re promoting the school, what does it matter?”
But an OSU professor said cases like this are common.
“Companies sue for alleged trademark violations all the time,” said Guy Rub, an assistant professor for OSU’s Moritz College of Law.
Rub said this particular case is interesting because the mark the university is suing over is based largely on the name of a state.
OSU’s claims that when buyers see the packaging, they immediately think of OSU’s athletic programs.
However, Rub said the farm could claim that buyers don’t think of the school, but of the state of Ohio.
Filing the suit, he said, is the first step in a long process and Case Farms has several options.
“For example, they could contact OSU and try to negotiate a deal in return for OSU dropping the case,” Rub said.
The farm could also fight the suit in court, or they could decide to cave and agree to the university’s demands, he said.