Upon further review: OSU trademark challenge reinstated

CINCINNATI (AP) — A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated Ohio State University’s trademark challenge to an online marketplace involving items with Buckeye-related images such as that of former championship-winning football coach Urban Meyer.

The three judges said that, unlike online third-party sales conduits such as Amazon and eBay, Redbubble Inc. is more than “just a passive facilitator.” The Cincinnati-based appeals court ruling Thursday stated that Redbubble interweaves its brand with products, and enabled “creation of goods bearing OSU’s marks that would not have otherwise existed but for Redbubble.”

The website for Redbubble, founded in Melbourne, Australia, in 2006, says it gives independent artists and designers a way to connect with fans globally. The company didn’t respond immediately Friday to an email seeking comment on the ruling.

Ohio State spokesperson Ben Johnson said the university is pleased with the ruling, which he said “protects the rights of trademark owners everywhere.”

Ohio State has long made protecting its trademarks a high priority. The court ruling said OSU-licensed products have generated more than $100 million over the last seven years. It had sent a cease-and-desist order to Redbubble in 2017, but no agreement was reached and the items it objected to continued to be sold.”

Among current items for sale on Redbubble are T-shirts with an outline of the state of Michigan, home to Ohio State’s football archrival the University of Michigan, and the slogan “Urban Property.” Other products reference a variety of colleges and NFL teams, including the Jacksonville Jaguars that Meyer will coach this year after winning college national titles at Ohio State and the University of Florida.

“OSU possesses a property interest in Urban Meyer’s persona,” stated the court ruling written by Judge John B. Nalbandian. Redbubble contended that it played “a passive role” in vendors uploading Meyer’s image and consumers buying items with his likeness.

The ruling sends the case back to U.S. district court in Columbus, for more factfinding on the issue and reconsideration of OSU’s claims.

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This story has been corrected to show the T-shirt’s outline is of Michigan, not Ohio, and the message is “Urban Property,” not “Urban Country.”

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Follow Dan Sewell at https://www.twitter.com/dansewell.

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