As some of you may be aware, Florida Atlantic University’s sports teams and mascots are the Owls. As some of you may also be aware, the southeast is home to Owl Tutoring, a college tutoring service with a fairly good reputation. Owl Tutoring has existed for over a decade and has even promoted itself by advertising in FAU publications. That’s probably why it took the folks at the company by such surprise to suddenly get a C&D letter from FAU’s legal team accusing it of committing trademark infringement.
Owl Tutoring has had a close relationship with the university for many years, including operating on campus for almost five years before moving off-campus to the FAU business incubator. Despite this long-standing association, FAU is now claiming that Owl Tutoring is violating its trademark.
Owl Tutoring believes the university can’t claim exclusive rights in the term “owl” in connection with tutoring services because the term is highly suggestive for these services given that owls are a well-known symbol for wisdom and knowledge. The company also notes there are over a dozen coexisting registered and pending trademarks incorporating the term “owl” for educational services.
In addition to pointing out that using the term “owl” for educational services is both widely done and potentially generic, Owl Tutoring also wondered out loud in its response letter to FAU just where the school has been for the past decade if it had a problem with the company’s name.
In response to FAU legal filings, Owl Tutoring asserted that FAU’s claims of trademark infringement are invalid because the university slept on its rights to object for more than 10 years, while actively supporting Owl Tutoring’s activities. Owl Tutoring has advertised its services in the FAU College of Business’ lobby, posted flyers approved by FAU and rendered services in FAU classrooms reserved by university staff explicitly for Owl Tutoring’s use.
Owl Tutoring, which is headed by an FAU alumnus, ends its response by politely suggesting that perhaps the legal team for FAU wasn’t aware of the close relationship between the two entities. Regardless of whether or not that is true, it sure would be hard to imagine a jury or court finding that the company suddenly infringed after a decade of coexisting with the university.
Let’s hope this is just a case of an overeager legal partner.