Winning Back "The W"

By: Brock Bergey Email
By: Brock Bergey Email

What has a balanced-tilt, shadow, squared prongs, an arrow-shaped indentation, and is all around Madison? If you said the university's cardinal red "Motion W", as it's called, you're right. But, UW officials says the "W" is moving off-campus and they're working to win it back.

The "Motion W" first showed up on Badger football helmets in 1990. It became a registered university trademark in 1996. But, now it's moving to places it shouldn't be, according to UW officials.

"When it starts getting used by outside identities it starts to dilute the (trade)mark and it's no longer identified with just the UW," says Cindy Van Matre, Trademark Licensing Director.

Last month, Van Matre sent letters to 25 schools in 16 different states saying their use of the "W" is a trademark infringement.

Van Matre says it doesn't matter what color it is, if takes on Wisconsin's look, it's being used illegally.

"We do not go out seeking high schools. I'm not sitting at my desk seeing who's using the logos all the time," she says.

Around 450 companies are licensed to produce items with the "Motion W." Russ Frank owns one of them.

"Every once-in-a-while you get someone coming in who will say they have the UW's permission. I just say show me the signature and they say I left it home and will be back, and of course they never come back," says Frank, owner of Madison Top Company.

He says they're very protective about trademarks. With its distinct look and continued Badger success Frank says this one letter is a hot-item.

Van Matre says if the University doesn't stop its use, and soon, the trademark could be lost.

"If it becomes a generic mark, then we cannot fight any objectionable uses of the logo," she adds.

Van Matre understands schools don't have the money to replace logos overnight. In her January letter she said the university is willing to work with schools to find solutions that avoid legal proceedings.

"For the most part the schools have been cooperative," Van Matre says.

One Iowa superintendent NBC 15 talked to on the phone Wednesday said his district is in the early stages of phasing out the "W". However, he estimates it will be a five year process.

The University has not set a deadline as of yet.

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