Five questions for Tara Dressler

Protecting CU trademarks requires special brand of education, warnings

Tara Dressler

If you are an entity not affiliated with the University of Colorado and try to use the interlocking CU logo for a brochure you are developing and haven’t received permission from the university, you might get a phone call from Tara Dressler. She will politely, but emphatically, tell you that the logo and program names associated with the institution are trademarked and using them isn’t allowed without consent. Dressler is the associate director for trademarks and patent administration and manages the trademark portfolio for the university’s four campuses and system administration. That entails everything from enforcement – protecting the trademarks from misuse – to preparing filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. She spends time doing outreach, both internally and externally, to educate people about exactly what a trademark is and how to use and protect it. She also helps with brand compliance and licensing. She worked as a paralegal at several law firms – all specializing in intellectual property – before coming to the university in 2007. Her first position was as patent administrator with the Technology Transfer Office, but, she said, people began to remember that she had trademark experience and asked her to review the university’s trademark portfolio. She was promoted to the position of intellectual property manager and began taking on trademark duties. After a year, she transitioned away from the patent side to the trademark side of the business and, with the support of the campuses and University Counsel, created the position that she currently is in primarily under University Counsel. “I’m thrilled that I found the patent administrator job that brought me to the university. The Tech Transfer Office has been a wonderful home and working with University Counsel has been fantastic. I’ve enjoyed my transition from law firm to university and I hope I can continue to support the university well,” Dressler said. “My job is something different every day. I’m constantly on different campuses and it’s great to get to know people and be of assistance.”

1. What types of CU items do you deal with that must be protected?

I deal mostly with trademarks, which are geared toward the name of something or the brand for something. For instance, if a program has a specific name attached to it, then the name is what a trademark protects. Trademarks can also be logos that are used to identify an entity’s goods or services.  Inventions are items that are patented and anything that is published or printed, including photos, falls under copyright protection.

2. What are some of the trademarks in the CU portfolio?

We have about 150 or so trademarks in the portfolio; they are a bit different depending on the campus. With Boulder, you probably think of athletics first – Ralphie and the Buffs. But we now have a new initiative, Be Boulder, and we have protected that trademark as well. There are other marks or brands on the Boulder campus, such as the A9 Identified program. This is through dining services, which puts labels on food to identify allergens for students so they can pick what they want to eat accordingly to make sure they aren’t grabbing something that could potentially be harmful. Another cool project is PhET, which are interactive simulations developed by the physics group at Boulder.

Denver has gone gangbusters with the lynx mark and with their lynx mascot, Milo. Their main campus campaign is Learn With Purpose, and that campaign is going extremely well.

Anschutz is very program-oriented. They have a huge program called the Nurse Family Partnership, which is an in-home nurse program for moms, especially first-time moms who come home and are scared about dealing with a baby. They have in-home nurses who educate them and help them. That program is now in five countries. IPharmD is a program developed by the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences for working pharmacists licensed outside the United States who can come to CU or take classes primarily online to get their doctor of pharmacy degree.At UCCS, there are the mountain lion athletic marks, and they also have a new trademark, Health Circles, which will be the name of the new health clinics on campus.And at the system level, we have the interlocking CU logo and the university seal, as well as the Brussels + Muscles children’s wellness program, developed through the Health and Welfare Trust.

3. How often does someone or an entity attempt to illegally use a protected brand and how do you stop them?

Thank goodness it doesn’t happen too often. The few times it has happened, a simple phone call or email has done the trick. We’ll just say that this is a CU program or trademark and if the person or group would like to use the trademark, we can talk about getting a license in place, as long as that would be a good partnership for the university. Otherwise, we nicely ask them to stop, and we explain that the university must be diligent in protecting its trademarks. We could proceed with a cease and desist letter, but we only want to pursue that course of action when absolutely necessary. A lot of people confuse fair use with protected trademarks. They think that since the brand is widely used that they can use it, too. Usually there is an element of not being informed about protected trademarks and a general lack of understanding as to what they can and cannot do. It can get complicated when you have an individual who wants to associate themselves with CU or who is proud of CU and wants to use the mark in connection with whatever they are doing. It is obvious that they have good intentions and want to support the university, and we tell them that the support is awesome and we want them to continue to do so, but they need to do it in a certain way. We don’t want to quash anyone’s efforts to associate with CU in a good way and support the university; we just want to make sure that they are doing it correctly when it comes to using trademarks. If someone wants to use the CU name or one of the trademarks, we are happy to talk them through the possibility of a license agreement if we believe it is a good fit for the university and would result in a compatible relationship. With all of our athletic brands, we contract with CLC, the Collegiate Licensing Company, and they handle all the licenses with our vendors that produce merchandise. If CLC comes across something that is being produced by an unlicensed vendor, they know it is unauthorized and they will handle it for us. They are also on the lookout for infringers and will work with the university to stop blatant infringement of the trademarks and logos. When it comes to the main university trademarks and the big athletics trademarks and logos, there is a royalty that comes back to university through the sale of licensed merchandise. These agreements are handled primarily through CLC. Agreements for the use of university programs are handled on a case-by-case basis. For example, at Anschutz, one faculty member is directing the Fostering Healthy Futures Program, which is a positive youth development program used to identify high-risk youth and help reduce those risk factors and promote healthy development. It’s a really cool educational program that is community-based. If another entity wanted to implement this program, we would likely structure that agreement to be fee- and royalty-free, because we want this program out in the world and we want people to succeed in helping kids.

4. Is it harder to defend against infringement in the age of social media and other technological advances?

Absolutely, it is a lot harder. Back in the day when I first started in this profession, the job was about monitoring what was being filed at the trademark office and more or less word of mouth. For instance, you might hear about a company that was trying to do something you already were doing and then you would take action. But with social media, the Internet, and all kinds of different media outlets, it is difficult to monitor everything. We rely on a combination of our internal departments – our communications and marketing departments have a really good pulse on what’s going on – and we’re also looking into contracting with an outside company that would help us monitor what is going on out there.

5. What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I’m an animal lover and have been a vegetarian for about 20 years, which some people do know, but what they don’t usually know is that my goal in the next 10 years is to buy a “forever house” that would have lots of acreage where I’d have horses, llamas and maybe some other animals and be able to raise chickens for fresh eggs. It would be my own little farm and my piece of paradise. I have a passion for horseback riding, and seeing all of the horses and ranches out here has been an inspiration for my dream.