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TMCNet:  ISU students file suit over trademark dispute [Ames Tribune, Iowa :: ]

[July 01, 2014]

ISU students file suit over trademark dispute [Ames Tribune, Iowa :: ]

(Ames Tribune (IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 01--Two Iowa State University students have filed a lawsuit against four university officials, saying they are using a "viewpoint-based application of the University's trademark policies" by not allowing the students' marijuana advocacy group to use ISU's mascot on their organization t-shirts.


The lawsuit, filed Tuesday on behalf of the students by three Washington, D.C.-based attorneys, accused the university administrators of hindering the group "from challenging the orthodoxy that marijuana use should be prohibited" and using the university's trademark policy to "dictate acceptable ways for NORML ISU to express ideas." NORML ISU is a chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The two students, Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, are the current president and vice president of NORML ISU, respectively. Gerlich is a junior studying software engineering and Furleigh is a junior studying genetics, according to ISU's student directory.

As defendants, the lawsuit names Thomas Hill, senior vice president for student affairs; Warren Madden, senior vice president for business and finance; ISU President Steven Leath and Leesha Zimmerman, program director of ISU's trademark licensing office.

In October 2012, ISU administrators initially approved NORML's t-shirt design that featured the university mascot CY on the front and read "Freedom is NORML at ISU" on the back with an image of a small cannabis leaf. Later, however, administrators withdrew their approval "after state officials and some members of the public complained about its political message advocating the legalization of marijuana," according to the lawsuit.

The administrators also adopted new trademark regulations "expressly to restrict NORML ISU's message," and rejected two additional t-shirt designs the group submitted, the lawsuit says.

In doing so, Gerlich and Furleigh are alleging, the administrators "confused political advocacy with illegal conduct, and, in the process, suppressed speech protected by the First Amendment." ISU's NORML chapter was founded in spring 2012 and claims more than 500 members.

The lawsuit asks for ISU's Trademark Licensing Policy to be declared unconstitutional, a permanent injunction restraining the policy from being enforced and monetary damages "in an amount to be determined by the Court." In a statement released by the university, John McCarroll, executive director of university relations, said the university had not seen the lawsuit, and was not able to comment on specific allegations.

"After we receive the lawsuit, we will review it with the Iowa Attorney General's Office and file our response with the court," McCarroll said.

"Student organizations at Iowa State University have the right to express their views, but they can't attribute those views to the university," he said. "Iowa State has the right and obligation to manage the use of our university trademarks." ___ (c)2014 the Ames Tribune, Iowa Visit the Ames Tribune, Iowa at www.amestrib.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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