Topeka — 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 Joe-College.com, 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 Joe-College.com 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.