The University of Kentucky is threatening a small distillery with legal action because the distillery uses the word “Kentucky” on T-shirts.
The name of the Whitesburg, Ky. distillery is Kentucky Mist Moonshine.
Colin Fultz, a co-owner of Kentucky Mist, recently received a letter from an attorney representing the taxpayer-funded university after Kentucky Mist had attempted to trademark its “Kentucky Mist” clothing line, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.
“It is our present position that Kentucky Mist Moonshine Inc.’s use of the mark KENTUCKY MIST MOONSHINE to identify articles of clothing is likely to cause deception, confusion and mistake as to Kentucky Mist Moonshine Inc.’s affiliation, connection or association with the university,” the letter from Michael Hargis of the Lexington law firm King & Schickli proclaimed.
The lawyer’s letter explained that the University of Kentucky has totally owned a trademark on the word “Kentucky” since 1997.
If Fultz and Kentucky Mist continue to seek a trademark on “Kentucky Mist” apparel, Hargis threatened, the University of Kentucky will “consider further action as it deems necessary.”
The Kentucky Mist logo and the University of Kentucky logo are completely different except for the word “Kentucky.”
The Kentucky Mist logo is a looping arc of black, old-fashioned block letters with some cursive flourishes.
The University of Kentucky logo is a flat, bland line of narrow, blue letters.
Also, the University of Kentucky is a huge public school. Kentucky Mist is a five-person small business in the rural eastern corner of the Bluegrass State which makes “vodka-like moonshine” naturally flavored “with local berries and fruit.” There’s also a small gift shop selling T-shirts, handmade local items and the like.
Fultz described the legal threat as bizarre.
“What they’re saying is crazy; all I’m using is the name Kentucky,” he told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday. “The only thing that we trademark was Kentucky Mist Moonshine … we just wanted to sell our own shirts.”
Meanwhile, Jason Schlafer, University of Kentucky director of trademark licensing, argued the school’s position that nobody trademark T-shirts and sweatshirts which mention the state of “Kentucky” because the University of Kentucky’s shirts already say “Kentucky.”
“It is the obligation of a trademark owner to monitor the registry and ensure that marks that could dilute your registered mark don’t register,” Schlafer told the Lexington newspaper.
“We can certainly coexist,” Schlafer added. “We’re not asking them to stop doing anything other than register a potentially confusing mark in the same category that we have a trademark registered in.”
University officials also recently sent a legal threat to some guy in Ohio who wants to sell “Kentucky Against the World” T-shirts.
On Thursday, Lexington attorney James M. Francis of the law firm Fowler Bell agreed to take Kentucky Mist’s case against the University of Kentucky, reports The Mountain Eagle, the local newspaper out of Whitesburg.
“This represents a shameful overreach by the University and an assault on the rights of business owners across the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Francis said in a statement. “The action by the University is an attempt to exploit a trademark that should never have been registered by the US Patent and Trademark Office and is likely unenforceable or invalid. It is blatantly disingenuous to claim that there is a likelihood that consumers would be confused between the University of Kentucky and a small eastern Kentucky distillery and gift shop.”
In the event that education bureaucrats in Kentucky are able to trademark the word “Kentucky,” they will hopefully be able to spell it correctly.
Last year, the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority recently shipped books to every student in the Class of 2015 about how to get into and pay for college with the word “Kentucky” spelled as “Kentucy” on every single spine. The error remained unfixed because a batch of new books would cost $70,000. (RELATED: Kentucky Education Bureaucrats Fail To Spell KENTUCKY Correctly)