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Archive for Thursday, April 15, 2010

Don’t be deterred, kids

April 15, 2010

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No way of knowing for sure, but I hope I’m smarter than a fifth-grader … although maybe not as smart as Miss Cochrane’s bunch.

Jennifer Cochrane is a fifth-grade teacher at Cordley School, and I was delegated to serve as a Junior Achievement volunteer in her class last week.

Using the JA curriculum, I explained to her bright and inquisitive fifth-graders about job skills, resources, supply, demand and entrepreneurship, among other things.

But I didn’t tell them about Larry Sinks. I didn’t tell the Cordley fifth-graders how an entrepreneur can lose his shirt in the T-shirt business.

To be an entrepreneur, I told the class, you have to combine imagination, innovative thinking and management skills to start a business.

That’s what Sinks did. He found a niche that appealed mostly to Kansas University students. He marketed T-shirts — some inane, some brash, some risqué — and the students loved them.

Not a single one of Sinks’ T-shirts contained the words “Jayhawk” or “KU” or the logos licensed to the university and administered by Kansas Athletics Inc. But the T-shirts were blue and contained references that were clearly KU-oriented, and a jury ordered Sinks to pay $127,000 in damages.

Then a judge ruled Sinks had to pay an additional $650,000 in legal fees.

Finally, on Monday, we learned Sinks and KAI had settled out of court. Clearly, one of the terms of the agreement was for Sinks to cease and desist. He did. He shut his business down and agreed never to print T-shirts again.

Perhaps even worse, Sinks had to issue a public apology.

What else could he do? What would you do if you were ordered to cough up more than three-quarters of a million dollars because you were the entrepreneur of a small business and you ran afoul of a large corporation?

On the last day of his close-out sale, I ran into Sinks in front of his store on Massachusetts Street. The place was teeming with customers, and he confirmed business had been brisk.

So here was an entrepreneur who still had a demand for what he could supply, and yet he had to go out of business because of what, in my opinion, were loosely applied trademark restrictions.

Let me interject here that I’ve known Sinks since he was a little boy. His father, Lawrence, was a printer for the Journal-World, and we played together on the J-W softball team. So if you want to accuse me of prejudice, so be it.

On the flip side, I’m sure I’m not alone in believing KAI’s ogre-like appetite for the almighty dollar in the Sinks affair sent the wrong message. Instead of co-existing with Sinks, Kansas Athletics Inc. polarized town-gown relations while sending this message to future entrepreneurs: “Don’t mess with us.”

It’s also the wrong message to send to fifth-graders who someday may want to do more than simply sell lemonade on the street corner.

So here’s my advice to Brendan, Olivia, Lourdes, Lesly, Jazmyne, Brittney, Stephanie, Abby, Tari, Kameron, Corey, Tanner, Jazlyn, Emilynn, Blake and Azariah:

Be bold, be imaginative and be innovative. Don’t let what happened to Larry Sinks deter you.

Comments

LegalHawk22 4 years, 8 months ago

Well, one mystery is solved. I have always wondered why the Journal World always gave Larry Sinks a pass. In fact, this paper was the only major newspaper in the state that didn’t discuss Larry’s terribly offensive shirt about Frank Martin mowing lawns. So, now we find out Larry’s dad worked for the paper. Finally an explanation… I always thought it was a good idea for reporters to understand the facts before they wrote an article. Chuck Woodling consistently violates this adage. Today’s column was no exception. If Mr. Woodling had bothered to read the settlement agreement as outlined in his own newspaper he would have seen that there was no language requiring Mr. Sinks to shut down either his store on Massachusetts St. or his Joe-College website. In fact, as was pointed out in court documents, over half his business consisted of “funny” shirts, shirts that did not utilize KU marks. Nothing precludes Mr. Sinks from producing shirts other than those outlined in the settlement.
Mr. Woodling has another glaring error in his editorial--Mr. Sinks did in fact produce and sell shirts that utilized the direct marks licensed and registered by KU. The judge directed him to cease the usage and he still continued, requiring KU to ask the court for assistance and damages for his breach of the judge’s order. Mr. Sinks had been given many opportunities before the lawsuit was filed to cease and desist utilizing KU marks and their derivatives (yes Mr. Woodling, derivative marks are also protected) and to stop using player names, something that could affect their NCAA eligibility. Read the court records. I could go on and on but you should get the point. Even a fifth-grader should get it; unfortunately, Mr. Woodling just doesn’t.
So, Mr. Woodling, maybe you aren’t prejudiced, but you certainly are biased.

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