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The Toronto Blue Jays take issue with Creighton University’s trademark application for their Blue Jays logo.

Back last September, Creighton University held a press conference in front of 3,000 students at which president Timothy Lannon and men’s basketball head coach Greg McDermott unveiled the new Creighton Blue Jays logo and court design at the CenturyLink Center Omaha.
Creighton Blue Jays Logo Design
Designed by Thornton, Colorado’s Mongoose Graphics, the new logo was part of a university-wide rebranding initiative for Creighton’s first year in the Big East Conference and a radical departure from the earlier versions of the Creighton Blue Jays’ script and angry Jay marks.
creighton blue jays old logo

A successful launch.

Don’t get me wrong – the new logo is nice. Very nice. And reaction was deservedly positive at the school and on social media, with the design eventually winning the Best Sports Logo of 2013 on Chris Creamer‘s highly respected SportsLogo.net. Got to be honest though, I missed this one – if I had’ve noticed at the time, I certainly would have predicted the legal wrangling we’re about to discuss, and have to wonder now, why it took so long for lawyers to start squawking. See, as wonderful as the new logo is, it does kinda look like the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team logo. At least one of them. You see, the Toronto Blue Jays logo has changed many times since the original 1977 design – with various tweaks, redesigns and returns to older versions – as illustrated below, and while the Creighton Blue Jays logo isn’t a carbon copy of the Toronto version, it’s reminiscent of bits and pieces from several:
Toronto Blue Jays logo through the years

Toronto cries fowl.

It’s no real surprise then that, according to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Toronto team (listed as the Rogers Blue Jays Baseball Partnership,) are protesting Creighton University’s attempt to trademark their logo. In the official opposition (available here) the Toronto Blue Jays claim that the Creighton Blue Jays marks “are identical and/or closely related” to theirs. The paperwork goes on to say:

“The design is formed by thick, clean lines and outlines with no gradient or shading, resulting in a bold, two-dimensional mark that is highly similar to the designs contained (in Toronto’s marks.)”

This is standard stuff for such things and Creighton University has 40 days to respond to the challenge with any subsequent trial estimated to last into 2015. Which logo is Toronto bitching about? Hard to tell actually – maybe the one below – even though that iteration was retired a few years ago when the team went “back to their roots” and started using a reworked original design.
Toronto Blue Jays logo

Is there a case?

Does Toronto have a case? Hard to tell really. The logos aren’t identical – though they are similar – and it’s very difficult to design a logo for a team called the Blue Jays without actually, well, using a graphic depiction of a Blue Jay. There’s only so many ways a designer can depict a bird so that it works across all media. Too, there’s a myriad of sports logos out there – pirates, bulldogs, sharks – all of which use similar treatments and they manage to coexist quite peacefully. There’s also the matter of so many damn Toronto logos floating around – many having been shelved – so which design is supposed to be infringing on what? Having said that, I’m also pretty sure that somebody at Creighton realized they were skirting trademark issues with the design. The Toronto Blue Jays logo is very well-known across North America – if not the World – and it’s pretty hard to plead ignorance of the design, especially when yours is unquestionably visually reminiscent of it (one of them anyway) and your name just happens to be the same. Let’s take another look (Creighton at top, Toronto at bottom) just to be sure:
Creighton Toronto Blue Jays comparison
Yeah. Somebody had to know.

No lawsuit. Yet.

Keep in mind that nobody is suing anyone – yet – and this is just a challenge to awarding an official trademark sanction to the University’s logo. At stake, of course, is the not-so-small matter of branded merchandise, which both teams cash in on, and the University getting a TM protection for their intellectual property is critical to stamping the design on merch and selling it to fans. Creighton is understandably keeping mum on the situation, releasing a short statement from their general counsel that goes thusly:

“We are aware of the U.S. Patent Office complaint, and are currently engaged in discussions with the representatives of the Toronto Blue Jays in an effort to resolve any concerns they may have.”

One thing’s for sure – this will be an interesting case and one that trademark lawyers and specialists will watch closely. Fans are already starting to weigh in on Twitter and social media with Toronto baseball fans claiming the Creighton logo is a knock-off and Creighton fans dismissing the claims as so much malarkey. One opined the Toronto Blue Jays were “crybabies” and another suggested (sigh) they were “on as much crack as (their) mayor.”

Thanks again Rob Ford.