Archive for Sunday, July 13, 2008

T-shirt trial stretches with complexities

July 13, 2008


— A federal jury must weigh complex legal issues and hundreds of pieces of evidence in a lawsuit pitting Kansas University against a Lawrence T-shirt seller.

"Something dangerous is going on here," warned attorney Jim Tilly in his closing statement last week after a seven-day trial.

Tilly represents Larry Sinks, owner of, 734 Mass., and Clark Orth, a T-shirt printer.

KU claims Sinks has infringed on the school's trademarks by selling T-shirts that people might associate with KU, although Sinks has no license agreement with KU and pays the school nothing. And KU says some of the T-shirts have what many consider offensive messages, thus harming the school's image.

KU is seeking $476,000 in Sinks' profits and $33,000 in royalties, plus unspecified punitive damages against Sinks and Orth.

The eight-person jury started deliberating on the case late Thursday and is scheduled to continue Monday.

Before receiving the case, the jury received court instructions from U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson that took longer than an hour to read. Robinson said the jury verdict form contained 800 questions. A total of 206 T-shirts are in dispute.

Tilly said KU was overreaching, trying to control everything that had to do with the university.

"Do you want to give the university a monopoly over any use of college colors?" he asked.

Sinks said he did everything possible to tell customers that his shirts were not sponsored, affiliated or licensed by KU. He has more than 200 signs in his store that inform buyers of that.

But Charlie Henn, an attorney representing KU, said Sinks was making money off the university's brand without being licensed to do so.

"He sold 25,000 infringing shirts in Lawrence," he said. Henn said Sinks undercut the 490 retailers who sell official KU merchandise and pay royalties to the school.

Sinks tried to get a license agreement with KU, but the school denied him. "The university gets to decide who can use their trademarks and who can't," Henn said.

And, he said, there are many people confused about whether KU endorses such T-shirts that say "Muck Fizzou," or "Our Coach Beat Anorexia." Those shirts tarnish the school's image, he said.

Because it is a civil case, the jury need only to find that a preponderance of the evidence supports KU to rule in the school's favor. But such a finding must be unanimous.

Whether there exists confusion in the public mind about whether a T-shirt is affiliated with KU is a critical part of the case. If the jury believe there is confusion, then it may rule in KU's favor.

A survey done for Sinks indicated that people could tell the difference between a licensed and unlicensed T-shirt. But an expert witness testifying on behalf of KU said the survey was "flawed."

Tilly, however, said if KU wanted to prove there was confusion over the T-shirts, it should have done its own survey. KU didn't, he said.

"They tried to coast," he said. "The plaintiffs have woefully failed to carry the burden of proof in the case."

Henn, however, said KU wasn't obligated to do a survey. He pointed to comments made in blogs that showed some people mistakenly thought some of Sinks' T-shirts were official KU merchandise.

Henn also said Sinks' own admission of having numerous disclaimer signs posted in his store indicates he is infringing on KU's trademarks.

"Why would he need 200 signs in his store, if this weren't a problem?" he asked.


california 9 years ago

Onceajayhawkalwaysajayhawk says:"Larry Sinks is a liar,theif and a cheat::He has always tried to make money at others expense.They need to throw the book at him once and for all so he will have to try and make an honest living."If you know Larry or his history, this is on the mark.Profwriter says: "Personally I know Larry has been involved with other business ventures that were quite legitimate & I believe the man has earned his money."Please, name any!Cowboy says: "This guy is not noble or the poor little guy being beaten up by KU .while the case may or may not have merit and the jury will settle that issue , this clown does not deserve any hero status whatsoever."This is right on, too. The guy skirts the system and allegedly defrauds KU on an earlier venture and now pays NOTHING to them in this venture of his. And, 200 signs? 200 SIGNS? That is ridiculous! You know you are guilty with that kind of a** covering. You may not like it or agree with it but KU is right on--especially dealing with this idiot and his past transgressions! KU wins again--and they should.

LooPerkinsucks 9 years ago

I sat down to dinner with Mangino lastnight, he had a salad. Instead of lettuce, it was tortilla chips with bacon fat drizzled all over for salad dressing, and topped with Wendy's triple decker...with cheeze. He woulda fit right in with the ol' SNL crew that did the infamous "Da Bears, Da Bulls" skits...

janeyb 9 years ago

"Muck Fizzou" and "Our Coach Can Eat Your Coach" could be printed in any array and/or combination of colors and still get the message across locally. It just seems that these slogans printed on a one shade lighter or one shade darker shirt than KU Blue doesn't violate a trademark. I know how I would vote on a jury, and it wouldn't favor KU.

jayhawks71 9 years ago

It bothers me that my alma mater, a state institution is "a brand." I also think that there is something seedy about KU being worried about the image of the school and then accepting the profits in the lawsuit. I have seen many a Muck Fizzou shirt and never thought of it as a KU sponsored shirt. Bad alma mater, bad!

notajayhawk 9 years ago

tangential_reasoners_anonymous (Anonymous) says:"Don't return them; donate them to the homeless."Is the license transferable, or do the shirts have to be burned when the original purchaser disposes of them?**Phillbert (Anonymous) says:"you'll notice that the LJW never uses "University of Kansas" (you know, the school's actual name) - it is always "Kansas University" for some reason."Also, oddly enough, neither "Kansas University" or "The University of Kansas" are registered with the Patent Office. "KU" and "Kansas" are. So are "The University of Western Kansas" and "Kansas State University." Apparently KU believes they own - or maybe are - the whole state, not just the University.

d_prowess 9 years ago

Someone above stated that they were bothered that KU is now a "brand." I am not bothered at all and think that is the current state of higher education these days (not just KU). With state budgets providing less money to universities and universities expected and responsible for coming up with the funds to not just operate, but improve, I would rather see the revenue coming from the sale of branded merchandise than through tuition increases.

LooPerkinsucks 9 years ago

hail2oldku...Do you have a license tag on your vehicle that says hail2oldku, but with less letters so it would fit on your tag??? If so, you cut me off in traffic the other day. You're lucky my cherry slushy didn't end up getting tossed through your window... Learn how to drive!

akuna 9 years ago

This is shameful of the university. The bigwigs in the athletics dept and university communications or university relations or whatever they are called these days are hurting KU not helping.School spirit, excitement, pride etc comes from the people not from on high. And definitely not from a bunch of crappy, overreaching rules that they are imposing not only on their licensees but also on their own departments. It is sad to see the nice, vibrant, diverse KU be squashed by a corporate monolithic model.Boo on the Chancellor. Boo on Lynn Bretz. Boo on Lew Perkins. Bring back the diversity and stop being a--holes.

misslawrence 9 years ago

my shirt says"ROY WHO".................hehe

usesomesense 9 years ago

Is it OK to print a blue t-shirt that just says:"This shirt is NOT officially licensed by The University of Kansas"or would use of the phrase "University of Kansas" on a T-Shirt be a violation?Since his signs say this - are they a violation?Can the Journal World legally print the phrase "University of Kansas" without a proper license? After all, they are profitting from news about the University and Athletics department.Did I just infringe by posting a comment?

cowboy 9 years ago

Ok , put yourself in a licensee's position. You do the art development $ , you apply for a license , get approved $ , you start marketing , hire a sales person or force , spend the dollars at the trade shows , build your inventory , produce and ship your products , track your sales , pay your licensing fees and the 8 percent on top of it for royalties , do your business honestly , then theres this guy , lie about your sales , get your license pulled , reapply and get denied , open a biz and sell up to the edge of licensed goods , claim your a victim , oh poor meGive me a break

davidsmom 9 years ago

The confusion is not on the part of the people who go into the store (although I agree 100% - if he has to have signs indicting that his merchandise is not licensed, then there is obviously a problem) to buy the merchandise. It is on the part of the people who have never seen the store but see the tacky shirts.

InspectorJo 9 years ago

GO Larry Go!!!We live in America!If the COURTS can't stop Fred Phelps or OJ, why in the HELL would they stop Larry from printing T Shirts.Oh, forgot where I was for a minutue.Go Larry Go!!!

profwriter 9 years ago

Few years back I wrote an article for Gemkey Magazine concerning the issue of trade dress as it played out in an intense lawsuit filed by the well-known jewelry designer David Yurman against Prime Art & Jewel (PAJ), a jewelry manufacturing company owned by a man named Felix Chen.The aforementioned case might be of interest to Larry & his attorneys in the event that the jury rules in the university's favor, assuming Larry would appeal.If the particulars would be helpful contact me privately & I'll pull my file which includes copies of court documents.BTW, the signage should NOT be viewed as something that validates the university's case.And the reference to some alleged problem in the past is nothing but rumor mongering as it was made without the inclusion of verifiable & accurate information. That said, if it was true, KU surely would have sought compensation through the courts & the matter would be long resolved by now. Personally I know Larry has been involved with other business ventures that were quite legitimate & I believe the man has earned his money. For those who are wondering I have no affiliation with Larry Sinks and I doubt he'd know who I am.

usesomesense 9 years ago

I think the 200 signs were put up after KU complained. I am certain he had signs before, but no where near 200.

onceajhawkalwaysajhawk 9 years ago

Larry Sinks is a liar,theif and a cheat......He has always tried to make money at others expense.They need to throw the book at him once and for all so he will have to try and make an honest living.

Chris Ogle 9 years ago

Just shows to go ya...anyone can sue for anything.Wonder what the lawyers are making on this one?

InspectorJo 9 years ago

Go Larry Go!"Larry Sinks is a liar, theif and a cheat....."I don't really know the guy, I am guessing he is a politician??Go Larry Go!

dweezil222 9 years ago

Does anyone else miss the days when a college would have better things to do like, say, educating students?I sincerely hope that someone prints a bunch of "F*** KU" shirts up and distributes them if KU wins this lawsuit.

nbnozzy 9 years ago

I hope Larry Sinks wins this case.

JakeHawk 9 years ago

Four reasons why Joe College should win:One, I personally like the shirts. I think some are funny. Others are less than tasteful so I choose not to buy those.Two, KU can not and should not be able to "brand" the color blue or the word Kansas.Three, it is very clear that these shirts are not representative of the university, unless you are an idiot.Four, I do favor the popularity of these shirts among students because it the crowds look better. We look like a large sea of blue, mainly because so many students are wearing Joe College.

hawkfan1220 9 years ago

So, does the state of Kansas have to change their name because the University has a license on the word Kansas? What about the Royals and the Chiefs?

hail2oldku 9 years ago

Stop making sense cowboy.Larry is the victim, KU is the bully, legit licensees are poor stupid saps that don't know a thing about business.

dweezil222 9 years ago

d_prowess:I agree with your point that perhaps branded merchandise should be used to generate revenue to prevent tuition hikes.However, let's think about the insane amounts of money KU draws in through its athletics each year. The millions of dollars drawn in from that make at least the major sports self-sustaining, and then some. Even if you spread around the revenue from the high-profile sports to the lesser-profile ones that may not pay for themselves, there still has to be a substantial amount of revenue left over.Second, I'd like to scold all the KU alums who are willing to give money to the university but only if it goes to the athletic department. Do something more useful with your money, such as, oh, I don't know, donating it to a scholarship fund or the university's general fund to prevent the tuition hikes mentioned above. (note: KU alums, you're hardly alone in this, but the admonition DOES apply to you.)Third, and it's been mentioned in other relevant discussions of this case if not in this one, the people who buy the JoeCollege shirts fall into one of two categories: Those who buy the licensed merchandise alongside the unlicensed, or those who wouldn't buy the licensed stuff anyway in the absence of JoeCollege. The university is losing little, if any, revenue from these shirts, especially given that they're arguing the negative effects of these shirts on their reputation, which clearly means KU has no intention of producing these shirts to obtain the revenue from them.

notajayhawk 9 years ago

Marion (Marion Lynn) says: "I just looked at the Seal of that school and it depicts Moses with a Burning Bush..."Oddly enough, "Universitatis Kansiensis" was also a registered trademark, but it was apparently allowed to expire and was cancelled in January.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years ago

"Don't return them; donate them to the homeless.""Is the license transferable...?"A royalty may be required, adjusted for the annual income of the recipient.

Rickyonealku 9 years ago

If you support Kansas University then purchase hats, T-Shirts, and other KU stuff from a store that has a contract with The University of Kansas. Other wise buyer be ware a civil suit could be forth coming.

notajayhawk 9 years ago

JakeHawk (Anonymous) says: "it is very clear that these shirts are not representative of the university, unless you are an idiot."While I agree with all of your points, please keep in mind that we're talking about a country where we have to put those big warning stickers on the cloth-towel machines in restrooms telling people not to stick their head in the towel loop. And with pictures, at that.

Green_Trees_Brown_Dirt 9 years ago

jayhawks71 said:"It bothers me that my alma mater, a state institution is 'a brand.'"This is the most intelligent comment so far on this issue. KU's actions present us with a prime example of an "educational institution" in its final days of decadence. It's laughable that KU officials would even be worried about this nonsense enough to go to court! The only plausible reason for KU officials to worry about "image" would be that they fear/know the university can't stand on a decent scholastic reputation. The obvious is almost too obvious here: "profits" are there to be had, and KU ain't seein' its "fair" share. This whole show is total idiocy, bears no resemblance of the kind of business a university should be engaged in, and will only end up tarnishing KU's so-called image (what little there is, despite the rhetoric on the new I-70 signs). This reeks of the University Relations office.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years ago

Solomon: "If KU wins I'm boxing up my officially licensed shirts and returning them to the university. Screw 'em."Don't return them; donate them to the homeless.

hail2oldku 9 years ago

LooPerkinsucks (Anonymous) says: I sat down to dinner with Mangino lastnight, he had a salad. Instead of lettuce, it was tortilla chips with bacon fat drizzled all over for salad dressing, and topped with Wendy's triple decker:with cheeze. -------------------------------------------------------------------------Gee, that's creative and original, too. I guess Larry's shirts are correct about one thing, why it's so windy in Lawrence.

Phillbert 9 years ago

I imagine KU sued because this wasn't the first time Sinks had done something like this. He previously had a license and hadn't exactly been operating on the up-and-up:"Eventually an audit of the business showed that Sinks had underreported the sales of the KU-related products, which meant he paid less royalty money than the university was entitled to, Vander Tuig said." to the first poster, you'll notice that the LJW never uses "University of Kansas" (you know, the school's actual name) - it is always "Kansas University" for some reason.

cowboy 9 years ago

This sounds like a continuation of the prior action against Midwest graphics where it was stated he falsified or did not maintain accurate records and pay the appropriate royalties. On that issue I can understand the U wanting to reign this guy in. I had a license years ago to produce licensed products , its a great market and lucrative and very easy to know what you've sold and how much you owe the U . failure to do so only indicates youre trying to skirt the system or in fact deceive the system for your own gain. This guy is not noble or the poor little guy being beaten up by KU .while the case may or may not have merit and the jury will settle that issue , this clown does not deserve any hero status whatsoever.

hail2oldku 9 years ago

janeyb (Anonymous) says: I know how I would vote on a jury, and it wouldn't favor KU.--------------------------------------------------------------------------And that's why you would have been dismissed from the jury pool with cause had you been a part of it.

Flap Doodle 9 years ago

I've heard that Joe College is going to release a series of "Kansas Drinking Team" T-shirts.

billbodiggens 9 years ago

Hey Cowboy... complaining about selling up to the edge of licensed goods? What? Complaining about almost committing an illegal act? Complaining about driving 65 in a 65 mph zone. What's this almost stuff? You are admitting that he did not violate any copyright, so what's the beef? Where's the beef, Cowboy???

hail2oldku 9 years ago

Sorry to disappoint you Loo, but no that wasn't me. I'm not the vanity plate type and I know how to drive just fine thank you.

Bone777 9 years ago

I wasn't aware of Sink's shady past with the university. It sounds like he smacked the big kid on the block one too many times.

LooPerkinsucks 9 years ago

Jeeeezzzuuuzzz..........You must be as f'n bored as I am. Do you spend your days checking to see if someone is making a comment about you? I do... If you have time to squeeze in a little bit of work in between checking ljworld and that barnyard porno site that you like, I would suggest you do so before you get fired....if you have a job.... GO MIZZOU!!!

BigAl 9 years ago

Looperkinsucks... Being a Missouri fan, I bet it sucks knowing that Lew Perkins helped put together a National Championship Basketball team and a BCS Orange Bowl winner?Things that ol' Mizzou can only dream about.

BigAl 9 years ago

Bone777, from what I've been told, you couldn't have said it any better.

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