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Former Rutgers Player Sues Alma Mater Over Nickname

Posted in Infringement

Moving along from Steve’s post on our alma mater of the University of Iowa, a former Rutgers football player has a more negative view of his former school. A few years ago, the Rutgers football program started allowing position groups to choose a nickname. The wide receivers are known as “Flight Crew,” the defensive linemen as “Rude Boyz,” and the offensive line was formerly known as “Soul Train.” Apparently the steam ran out though and the group chose a new name this year: “Rare Breed.” The players and the coaches use the name in social media like Facebook and Twitter. While Wild Turkey appears unconcerned, the new moniker has ruffled the feathers of John Ciurciu, a former Rutgers fullback who has now filed a trademark infringement complaint in the New Jersey U.S. District Court.

Ciurciu founded Rare Breed after he moved on from his playing career. According to the complaint, the company sells a variety of clothing and football gear, becoming popular among high school, college and professional football players. The complaint counts Adrian Peterson and Brian Cushing among NFL players that wear the brand. The company also designs custom apparel for student athletes at Coastal Carolina College. The company owns registered trademarks for the RARE BREED mark in standard character form as well as part of a design mark. The registered design mark is shown below on the left, and the image displayed on Rutgers social media on the right.

The complaint alleges that the use of the image above as well as the use of the hashtags in social media are all instances of trademark infringement and unfair competition. Rare Breed had earlier sent cease and desist letters to Rutgers. The university’s attorney responded by stating that the coaches had been directed to remove the images and hashtags from their social media. While some of the images were removed, some remained. Rare Breed sent a second letter and again the university’s attorney stated that the coach had been directed to remove the use.

It is worth noting that Rutgers has not sold any goods with the image above. However it seems that Rare Breed is concerned that players, especially recruits, might mistakenly believe that the team is sponsored by Rare Breed. The concern seems plausible, even if Rare Breed doesn’t have the same widespread recognition as bigger companies like Adidas or Nike. While we have to wait and see whether Rare Breed can prevail on its claims, one thing is certain. In the age of recruiting via social media, counsel for colleges and universities should discuss intellectual property and other social media issues with their football programs. The Rare Breed – Rutgers dispute is an excellent Exhibit #1. Without proper guidance, lawsuits like this will be anything but rare.