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'Like Buzz, if I could be like Buzz...'
Tech slaps Utah baseball team with a lawsuit
By Scott Lange
Assistant News Editor
Georgia Tech and a minor league baseball team in Utah have become entangled in a legal battle over the rights to the name "Buzz."
Owner Joe Buzas renamed his baseball team the Salt Lake Buzz after moving them to Utah five years ago. The name passed unnoticed until late in 1996 when a customer saw Salt Lake Buzz merchandise on sale.
"Georgia Tech has a federal registration for the wordmark Buzz, so it's not just the design of the character Buzz, but the word itself," explained Tammy Tuley, Director of Client Communications. "[The wordmark] is in a variety of categories, one of which is Entertainment Services which includes sports."
As Georgia Tech has done in prior infringement incidents, the Institute opened negotiations with Buzas. After a year of discussions, Tech officials believed they had reached a solution.
"[After a year], they did agree to stop using the name," Tuley explained. "We drew up legal paperwork and sent it to the proper people at Salt Lake."
After seemingly finding an amicable resolution to the dispute, officials were surprised to learn that Buzas had suddenly filed suit in Utah, asking that the court declare his team free to use the name Buzz.
"[Because of the suit], we have a good faith question," Tuley said. "As a result of that, we had to file suit as well. The goal was never to go to court, otherwise we wouldn't have tried to work out an agreement in the beginning."
"That's why we are leery of negotiations in the futureafter a year of negotiations, we had a legal document, they were prepared to change their name as far as we knew, then all of the sudden they changed their mind," Tuley continued. "[To again attempt to negotiate] we would have to have grounds to believe that they were acting in good faith."
Institute officials are concerned that permitting the Salt Lake Buzz to go unchallenged could set a precedent allowing other encroachment on Georgia Tech's trademarks.
"Buzz is just as unique to Tech as the fight song or the Ramblin' Wreck," said Rob Olin, Director of Marketing for the AA. "We have exclusive legal rights to each of them. If we allow someone to pick away pieces of that exclusivity, it would be strategically very damaging.
"Once you give up that exclusively, you can never get it back," continued Olin. "That is why we have to fight this thing."
If trademark infringement were to reduce the revenue collected from Georgia Tech's trademarks, there would be a significant impact on the Institute.
"Every time a company sells a GT sweatshirt, we make a royalty off that," explained Tuley. "That money comes back into what's called the Buzz Fund and then goes back out on an annual basis to fund scholarships."
The Salt Lake Buzz situation is the first instance in which Georgia Tech has had to file suit to protect the wordmark Buzz. However, the Institute has gone to bat for Buzz on at least two occasions in the past.
"We had an instance with Opryland USA theme park where they wanted to create a puppet character named Buzz," said Tuley.
"They were going to do a lot of brand marketing, creating dolls and T-shirts. We corresponded with them and they agreed not to use that mark."
"We also had a race team called Howe Racing that had our design of Buzz on their car. They were selling sponsor space on that mascot. Again, we went back and forth on paper and they agreed to stop using it without a suit."
Tuley and Olin agree that preserving Georgia Tech's unique and distinctive place in the culture of the nation is of paramount importance and a key reason for the Institute's vigilance in protecting the wordmark.
"[According to a report], we have the number three fight song in the country, one of the top ten mascots, and we are virtually alone in never having suffered NCAA scrutiny," said Olin. "We are working hard to take advantage of that stature."
A key issue in the Salt Lake Buzz case is the geographic reach of Georgia Tech and the minor league baseball team.
"We have found cases, at least one instance in particular, in Atlanta, where Salt Lake Buzz merchandise was being sold," Tuley said. "We have found at least one vendor who carried the [Salt Lake] merchandise and sold the merchandise to buyers who purchased it because they thought it was Georgia Tech."
"The reality is they sell merchandise all over the country," Tuley said.
Copyright © 1998 by Gregory S. Scherrer, Editor and by the Student Publications Board
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