Science Hill High School’s apparent misuse of the image of a grimacing top-hatted man placed Johnson City Schools in the direct path of a trademark infringement lawsuit.
But the start of school has come and gone, and it appears things have been and continue to be smoothed out, though no specifics have been announced.
More than two months ago, Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University sent Johnson City Schools a letter requesting that the high school’s athletics, promotional clothing items, school bulletin, website and fundraising campaign stop using the logo.
Proof that the two entities have taken action straddles Kermit Tipton Stadium’s 50-yard line, where the large logo remains firmly implanted in the new synthetic turf. That was just one item the university demanded be removed before the Aug. 4 school start date.
The logo is easy to find. It’s on the high school’s baseball and football websites and the “Take it to the Topp” fundraising campaign donation form.
Lee Patterson, Johnson City Schools’ human resources director and legal counsel, acknowledged the seriousness of the letter on July 6, saying the school system was attempting to work out a franchising agreement and had three choices: “stop using the logo, work something out with them or get sued.”
One day later, Patterson said that “because of potential litigation, it’s kind of hit the point where we can’t talk any further.”
Since that time, Patterson has simply said that negotiations are ongoing.
Duquesne University Public Affairs Director, Rose Rosario, has conveyed that same basic information to the Johnson City Press on several occasions.
“I can confirm that we are in negotiations, and they are friendly negotiations,” said Christine Ethridge, an attorney with the Pittsburgh law firm K&L Gates who is representing the university. “We are aware that school has started, and we are hopeful an amiable resolution can be reached.”
For now, the matter is being handled privately and answers are being held close to the vest. One obvious question is, how much will the friendly negotiations cost the school system?
The request by Duquesne’s attorney states that “beginning immediately” no coach, staff member, teacher or anyone representing the high school wear any article of clothing with the logo on it.
We’ll see. The football team pours in to Kermit Tipton Stadium on Aug. 26 for its first home game.