CLARKSBURG - West Virginia University is asking a federal court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the sale and production of a Morgantown T-shirt maker's "infringing merchandise."
The three-page motion was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia Thursday.
In a news release, the university said it has had "numerous discussions" with defendants MivaMan LLC, JFord Inc. and Kevin Ford, and has tried -- unsuccessfully -- to settle the matter.
"It is WVU's responsibility to protect the reputation, integrity, image and goodwill of the university through the proper use of our federally-registered marks," said Becky Lofstead, assistant vice president for university communications.
"We also have a responsibility to our alumni, friends, donors, students, parents and fans -- all those who hold this university in such high regard."
Lofstead said hundreds of licensed vendors correctly use WVU's "identifiers" on merchandise that is sold to the public -- but the defendants are not one of them.
The company, which also operates the website www.fastees.com, is not a licensed WVU vendor and has "blatantly and intentionally" infringed on a variety of university marks, she said.
"This is not simply a case of whether or not someone can use the name of the state. When used in reference to WVU in the way it is being done, this business owner is clearly attempting to affiliate his products with West Virginia University to trade off our goodwill and strong reputation for his profit," Lofstead said.
"Rarely does a business owner defy the law when they learn they've used the WVU marks inappropriately. It's usually a matter of bringing it to their attention and the practice stops. In this case, the business owner is clearly and knowingly violating the law."
WVU is suing the defendants for trademark infringement, trademark dilution, cyberpiracy and unfair competition under the Federal Trademark Act of 1946, trademark and anti-dilution laws in West Virginia and unfair competition laws in the state.
In particular, the university accuses the defendants of producing and selling shirts, coolers and temporary tattoos that say the following:
* West F***** Virginia;
* West By God Virginia;
* Let's Go! Drink some bEERS!;
* Best F***** Virginia;
* Gold F***** Rush;
* Blood Sweat and Eers;
* West Virginia Girls Do It In The Mud;
* I am 99 Percent West Virginia;
* I Only Flash West Virginia Fans;
* I Only Sleep With West Virginia Fans;
* The Incredible EERS; and
* VERY WASTED.
Other shirts sold by the defendants include an image of the state of West Virginia and a hand raising its middle finger interposed between the words "West" and "Virginia"; another with "West F***** Virginia" and a yellow fist in the middle; and another with the words "Don't Curse" on the front and on the back "West F***** Virginia."
Owner Ford called the whole situation "ridiculous."
"We put 'West By God Virginia' on a T-shirt and they seem to think that's infringing on their standards," he said in an interview Thursday.
"They don't have a trademark on the words 'West Virginia.' They can't trademark a geographic location."
Ford said he hopes a judge, too, will see that the case is without merit -- or else he might have to close up shop.
"I can't even walk into court and plead my case without an attorney. They won't let me," he said.
"And here I am holding a $3,000-plus bill from my attorney to work on a settlement that we couldn't reach."
He said WVU's proposed settlement would have allowed him to use the words "West Virginia" in certain situations but no blue and gold colors, and would have put strict stipulations on font sizes, among other things.
"It was just ridiculous," Ford said. "We only have a couple of designs in my whole store with 'West Virginia' on it. It's a very small percentage of what we're trying to sell here."
As for the university's temporary restraining order and injunction, Ford said he would do his best to fight it.
"There's not one person I've met, talked to -- on the Internet or phone, attorneys and lawyers -- all of them have said (WVU) can't get away with this," he said.