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You be the Judge: a “TM” on a “W”

Oct 21, 2008

by Sarah Feingold handmade and vintage goods

When thinking about trademarks, you may think of a word, name, or symbol to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.  You may have visions of the Apple logo, or Louis Vuitton’s monogram trademark, but what about one single letter?  In this You be the Judge, we will examine the case of the college Ws. The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, with around 28,999 undergraduate, 8,860 graduate, and 2,563 professional students.  The “Motion W” mark is a UW-Madison logo. Washburn University (Washburn) is a public institution of higher learning located in Topeka, Kansas, with around 6,300 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students.  The university uses a W to promote its athletics teams. Their mascot is a gentleman by the name of Ichabod, as the endowment founding the school was from Ichabod Washburn, a famous 19th-century industrialist. In late 2007, the UW-Madison filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Washburn claiming it “is making use of both identical and confusingly similar variations of the Motion W mark, in a blatant attempt to trade on the goodwill of Wisconsin.” In September 2008, Washburn agreed to spend thousands of dollars to modify the logo.  Washburn will add an element to the athletic W logo like the Washburn name, the word “Ichabod” or the image of the Ichabod.  Washburn claims this agreement is a business decision and does not acknowledge any wrongdoing. Although the parties settled the case, what do you think?  Do you think the Ws are “confusingly similar?”  In this “case of the Ws,” you be the judge!

Comment below with your opinion!

See other You Be the Judge posts.

Miniature Dollhouse Monogrammed Pillows Black and White Letter W
Miniature Dollhouse Monogrammed Pillows Black and White Letter W
SALE W is for Warthog
SALE W is for Warthog


  • rhymeswithluck

    rhymeswithluck said 11 years ago

    I think it's riduculous. Sure they look the same, they are both the letter W. How much variation can you really get with a W. They should both have to go back and come up with something more clever and creative than a single letter.

  • myshrunkenhead

    myshrunkenhead said 11 years ago

    I agree. Did they think that their students were going to get confused and go to the wrong school? Oh no! I applied for the wrong W!

  • livefunky

    livefunky said 11 years ago

    I think the Etsy W's you featured have a lot more pizazz than those two!

  • LazyTcrochet

    LazyTcrochet said 11 years ago

    I agree w/ livefunky!

  • MariesVintage

    MariesVintage said 11 years ago

    Personally, I think that Washburn sounds too similar to Wisconsin. They'll just have to change their name as well!

  • ArtsyAnn

    ArtsyAnn said 11 years ago

    my husband went to washburn for a year, so I'm partial to staying on the Ichabod side :) I do think that they should be different enough to have their own identity. Interestly enough my hubby is studying copyright law now so he should find this very interesting! Any openings in the etsy law department?

  • fabricfarrago

    fabricfarrago said 11 years ago

    They don't look at all the same. The most obvious part is that they are not the same color. Also, one has a shadow, while the other has an outline -- completely different. They aren't even the same shape/exact font. I really don't understand what Wisconsin was thinking.

  • curlyfrysc

    curlyfrysc said 11 years ago

    There's a font called "Princetown" on my computer and the blue W looks like it. So is the "motion W" going to sue the font-maker of "Princetown" as well?

  • toybreaker

    toybreaker said 11 years ago

    Reminds me of a lovely cease and desist and jail threat from a red, or any shade thereof, Helvetica plus sign.

  • DancingMooney

    DancingMooney said 11 years ago

    I don't think they are easy to confuse personally. Sure they are both W's, but in general teams of any sport usually stick with their team colors, and the font is different too, so what's the big deal? I can see where trademarks may be important and/or necessary, but it's totally unfair to cause a huge franchise to make huge changes with such minor similarities. Who's to say anyone 'owns' the letter W. ♥

  • EirewolfCreations

    EirewolfCreations said 11 years ago

    Bah... They're not identical. Maybe if they were the same color, or the same font, they'd be confusing. I'd have to see more evidence of "blatant attempts to trade on the goodwill of Wisconsin" to find in Wisconsin's favor.

  • professorbootyxxx

    professorbootyxxx said 11 years ago

    If it's in black and white, they look much more alike. That said, UW probably wanted to throw its weight (and cash) around to pressure Washburn into changing it because they're sort of similar. As someone who went to Wisconsin, I like the old W better. I'm not big on the "motion."

  • gadgetgirl

    gadgetgirl said 11 years ago

    Washburn Uni should have researched to see if they were infringing on any current trademarks. It's a matter of protecting their brand - I don't think UW-Madison was in the wrong at all.

  • littleone

    littleone said 11 years ago

    it's silly to make a fuss over, but why did washburn not research that more? if i were a college and i wanted to make my trademark "w." i'd make sure it didn't look like anyone else's. we live in america and suing is the american way. safeguard yourself, do the research and pick something more unique.

  • littleone

    littleone said 11 years ago

    oops, sorry gadgetgirl. you wrote yours as i was writing mine. didn't mean to copy your thoughts!

  • chocolateandsteel

    chocolateandsteel said 11 years ago

    I think it's odd that someone can own the rights to a letter. Does Sesame Street know this?

  • whyte

    whyte said 11 years ago

    I don't think they are close enough to consider it a trademark infringement. And I'm pretty much an advocate of protecting copyright, but those W's would have to be a lot closer IMHO. Does

  • neopostretro

    neopostretro said 11 years ago

    I feel that I should no longer use the letter "double u" for fear that the University of isconsin-Madison ould sue me for using it. I think it ould be ise for everyone else to do the same.

  • PaperFixation

    PaperFixation said 11 years ago

    I think some people get in a fuss about the dumbest things. SERIOUSLY!!! Don't they have other things to worry about? Like teaching and students and things like that? "confusingly similar" Puh-lease! If they had invented the W then maybe I could see where they might be upset...but come on!

  • KisforCalligraphy

    KisforCalligraphy said 11 years ago

    Not even close! I think the Green Bay Packers' G and Univ. of Georgia's G are "confusingly similar in comparison. And just the other day I was looking at a Univ. of California, Berkeley football schedule on a friend's fridge and I had to do a double take because in low lighting it looked like was the Green Bay Packers. The G and The C are of the same nature. I think there are a lot of universities with very similar logos. I guess if Washburn also had a Badger Mascot then there would be grounds for infringement!

  • KisforCalligraphy

    KisforCalligraphy said 11 years ago

    And what about the Washington Huskies? Wow, I thing the Georgia Bulldogs have a case against the Huskies? LOL Go Dawgs!!!

  • oyster

    oyster said 11 years ago

    It is a problem for marketing and merchandising, which means big money for both schools...

  • racheljasmine

    racheljasmine said 11 years ago

    Nothing really belongs to anyone anyway! "The best things in life aren't things."

  • ClaudiaLord

    ClaudiaLord said 11 years ago

    I don't think these two are close at all. I guess I could understand a little if the 2 schools were in the same state or in the same NCAA conference, etc. but they're not. Good post Neo!

  • MeadowbelleMarket

    MeadowbelleMarket said 11 years ago

    Oh my goodness!! Look at all those W's etsy artists are selling!! UW-Madison better sue them, too!!

  • fenrislorsrai

    fenrislorsrai said 11 years ago

    So are they going to sue the makers of the new movie W? It's clearly using a W inappropriately! Part of the whole issue is confusing the two. They are both universities, but so geographically separated, they couldn't be mistaken for each other.

  • LegendaryTigerHero

    LegendaryTigerHero said 11 years ago

    Somebody should change their logo and incorporate both of the W designs in spite of those diaper-babies!!

  • lizzieneff

    lizzieneff said 11 years ago

    washburn could have picked a different way to style their "W" instead of just giving it an outline. but i'm also biased because i'm from wisconsin and uw-madison (as well as madison the city) is pretty fantastic.

  • ThirteenStitches

    ThirteenStitches said 11 years ago

    I don't think they look similar at all. And I agree with the comment, "What are they going to get confused and go to the wrong school?" Some people have too much time on their hands...

  • SquishySushi

    SquishySushi said 11 years ago

    How funny this is about washburn - I'm orginally from Kansas. There is actually a scholarship at Washburn started by my hubby's grandfather for the freshman girl with the cutest smile :)

  • WingsDove

    WingsDove said 11 years ago

    Love the letter "W" -- of course! The first letter of my business name and the first letter of my last name. I think I will go shopping for "W"s.

  • tortillagirl

    tortillagirl said 11 years ago

    They are not identical. They may be confusingly similar to those who know neither schools. I wonder if Wisconsin would have been able to be so effective in coming to an agreement if i) Wisconsin's mark hadn't been registered and ii) Washburn had not slanted that W design in the same manner and direction that Wisconsin did? It's all in the slant.

  • Lunaverse

    Lunaverse said 11 years ago

    I think they're totally different looking! The the blue one looks more collegate while the red one reminds me of the "Wendy's" logo, which totally seems like a bigger infringement to me! :)

  • designfruit

    designfruit said 11 years ago

    Washburn should have done the research to see what was out there. I don't think UW-Madison did anything strange when trying to protect their mark. There certainly are similarities; the angle, the slab-type serifs, the fact that they are both Ws. When you think of all the possibilities for a W, these really are close; could be a coincidence though.

  • saraaires

    saraaires said 11 years ago

    I totally agree with designfruit... There should always be a better effort to do better designs than to just "pick ideas" from your next door neighbour"... Portugal still has to learn a lot about this. :)

  • allisonstrine

    allisonstrine said 11 years ago

    This makes me wonder what the logos look like for Wisconsin, Washington and Wichita State!

  • RonH

    RonH said 11 years ago

    Actually, the "W"s look a lot like upside down "M"s. But I guess you would have to find a copyright lawyer that practices yoga to fight for that one. LOL What an incredible waste of time and money.

  • KalliopeJewelry

    KalliopeJewelry said 11 years ago

    They look different to me! Seems like a waste of time and $ to dispute it. What about the "W" logo on Womens Wear Daily magazine? Nobody owns rights to a letter, especially if it is designed differently, like the fab Etsy picks for this article!

  • ArtoftheMoment

    ArtoftheMoment said 11 years ago

    Love all the W's in the etsy find. As for the other two well they are simalar for sure. I agree with alot of the comments made. Its seems silly to make such a big deal out of their unoriginal letters. Thats why esty is so great everything is so unique!

  • EJPcreations

    EJPcreations said 11 years ago

    Is this what we, as a society, have realy come to?

  • AutumnLeavesJewelry

    AutumnLeavesJewelry said 11 years ago

    Whoa, I have a Whopper of a Wild and Writing headache...actually I'll just be so happy in a few months When 'W' is out of office! ;p I'll always remember the very poor-smart gal who opened a shop at Tysons Corner here in Norther VA years ago. She She was selling various cool packages of 'The Green Ones', and M&M came after her so fast! She was shut down before you could slap a tick!

  • puffluna

    puffluna said 11 years ago

    My daughter is anti-W (double-u) she thinks it is very confusing and thinks it should be called double-v. I agree with her. As for this issue... I think that taking a letter and putting a slant in it, a color on it and a shadow behind it and claiming it as your own forever and ever is a bit ridiculous. Not to mention, Washburn's W looks completely different. I see no similarity here and I would think this would lose in court. Very interesting. Thanks for letting me exercise my left brain!

  • bydeneen

    bydeneen said 11 years ago

    I guess it is a confusing marketing issue...but...I can see they are quite different.....

  • TheKnottyPine

    TheKnottyPine said 11 years ago

    The lack of originality of both these "logos" struck me at first, but obviously they are very different when you look at them. To confuse them one would have to have very bad vision ;) I feel that this nonsense on the part of the UWM was a big Waste of time with a giant capital W! They both need better designers... They should check out Etsy ;)

  • 88kitty

    88kitty said 11 years ago

    Sarah - am I using the USPTO database wrong? All I could find was this: But UW-Madison used a (circle)R on their logo instead of a "TM" denoting that it's actually registered... if it's not officially registered isn't Wisconsin's case weaker? Wouldn't Kansas only be "guilty" of innocent infringement?

  • clevergirl

    clevergirl said 11 years ago

    Thankfully (from what I know) there are not outposts of W Hotels in their areas or things could get pretty ugly.... :-)

  • jackbear

    jackbear said 11 years ago

    It is to Washburn's benefit to change the logo, because it will help brand them better, so they aren't confused with Madison. Similar problem has happened at other colleges. jackbear

  • WellspringCreations

    WellspringCreations said 11 years ago

    Well, it made their lawyers happy. And some firm will get $100K to design a new logo.

  • dmichels

    dmichels said 11 years ago

    The courts have ruled that fonts cannot be copywrited (only their source code can be) because the 26 letters of the alphabet do not, and cannot, belong to one entity. The W is 98% of these two logos, and they are clearly different fonts, so there is really no copyright infringement. No one owns the letter W.

  • lala412

    lala412 said 11 years ago

    Wisconsin is crazy. They are both the letter "W" (what, is Washburn supposed to change their name now?), and tilted. That's it. Not the same color, not the same font, they do NOT look enough alike to be confused for each other even in B&W, and like others have said - like the kids are going to suddenly say "hey, I'm at the wrong school!" People are just greedy. I'm surprised at Washburn - I have a friend who was pre-law there, so they MUST have lawyerly-like people on staff... or maybe that's the problem. :-)

  • jenster76

    jenster76 said 11 years ago

    Now that's just silly!

  • AchAchLiebling

    AchAchLiebling said 11 years ago

    Hmm, you know I'm not sure suing a public school for using an initial to bolster school spirit really helps Wisconsin's make a case of an "attempt to trade on the goodwill of Wisconsin.” You go around suing schools for using the alphabet and you're not going to have whole lot of goodwill left.

  • kingofmythrone

    kingofmythrone said 11 years ago

    Made me think fast food chain Wendys. That starts with a W and is red. Oh yeah, I forgot they have all ready been sued.

  • NavyGirlDesigns

    NavyGirlDesigns said 11 years ago

    Well, I agree, the logos are different, with the exception of the letter and the slight arch! LOL Some incident must have brought this suit around for people to spend the time and money in this!

  • steampunkjewelry

    steampunkjewelry said 10 years ago

    Over a W? Pathetic and childish, is this what they are teaching in college these days?

  • steampunkjewelry

    steampunkjewelry said 10 years ago

    Over a W? Pathetic and that what they are teaching in college these days?

  • steampunkjewelry

    steampunkjewelry said 10 years ago


  • NuminaWearableArt

    NuminaWearableArt said 9 years ago

    What they teach these days: "Find new ways to make money. Find a credible reason to sue somebody, and go for it! The odds are better than the lottery, after all!"

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