University of Illinois Settles with Alumnus in 'Make Illinois Great Again' Apparel Suit
Whenever Ted O’Malley nears a monumental anniversary of his graduation from the University of Illinois, the institution will likely send him materials that promote some sort of celebration or reunion. As of late June, though, the higher learning institution might find itself issuing that outreach with a bittersweet disposition, as the university had to pay O'Malley $7,500 stemming from a lawsuit, through which his "Make Illinois Great Again" T-shirt poked fun, in part, at its athletic teams’ struggles.
Colleges and universities laud themselves as places to foster critical thinking skills, and O’Malley made good on his sizable tuition payments by deciding that he should battle his alma mater. The matter stretches back to March 2017, with O’Malley having filed a trademark application to peddle “athletic apparel, namely, shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hats and caps, [and] athletic uniforms,” which the university challenged exactly a year later. Part-political commentary and part-rebuke of the football and men’s basketball teams at the school, his shirts had been using the aforementioned slogan and an image of a 2007-retired mascot to signify wearers as wishers for better results.
While ribbing local politicians and athletic clubs for their efforts is everyone’s right, the University of Illinois had countered that O’Malley’s garment violated two of its trademarks. Pressing on, O'Malley gave fighting back the old college try, taking to GoFundMe to be able to compensate his legal consultant. Since that venture fell way short of its goal, and because those fees probably exceeded the settlement amount, one wonders how accomplished O’Malley might feel, but let’s look at what the confrontation yielded for the combatants.
From @bzigterman: @Illinois_Alma has reached a settlement in a trademark-infringement suit it filed against an alum over his "Make Illinois Great Again" T-shirts. Details are unclear, but the shirts are no longer for sale: https://t.co/Dzxks9pmLV pic.twitter.com/zmR8FDdtaz
— The News-Gazette (@news_gazette) June 26, 2018
The isn’t-that-nice element of the verdict will forbid the parties from slamming each other in any kind of statement, with O’Malley having the added pressure of agreeing to keep from critiquing any “departments, divisions, employees, services or athletic programs” associated with the school. At the core, though, is the university’s dismissal of its lawsuit and decision not to challenge his "Make Illinois Great Again" trademark and the declaration that O’Malley, should he make any other clothing bearing the slogan, must not issue athletic apparel and must refrain from using anything similar to the Fighting Illini font by which teams identify themselves.
Promo Marketing looked at the early stages of this squabble in April, the same month that O’Malley ceased selling the top, which he halted after hawking “a few shirts,” according to the school’s federal lawsuit. Along with the suppression of any athletic clothing aspirations, the defendant must also never issue apparel that involves any landmarks, logos, symbols and trademarks belonging to the University of Illinois System’s flagship institution.
In looking at the legal scuffle, the News-Gazette also addressed the Chief Illiniwek depiction that O’Malley’s shirts had included and discussed the efforts to have the likeness not appear on merchandise going forward. While the controversy has not received anywhere near as much publicity as the Chief Wahoo matter in Cleveland, perhaps last week’s "Make Illinois Great Again" decision could increase calls for more intense monitoring of its use.