SIOUX CITY | What better way to show off school spirit than to wear a logo T-shirt or sweatshirt?
For Sioux City residents, it's as easy as shopping at their neighborhood grocery store or big-box retailer.
The Sioux City Community School District partners with retailers -- including Wal-Mart, Kmart and Hy-Vee -- to sell their logo apparel.
While the district doesn't make any money from the sales, it's still a win-win situation, said Alison Benson, school district spokeswoman.
The district provides the logos to vendors who then are able to make the clothing available to more supporters in the community, Benson said. The logos are not trademarked.
“We want as many people as possible to have access to promote our high schools,” she said.
"We think it's important for the communities that wanted to support our high schools to have the opportunities to buy our apparel," she said. "They might not have access to our stores, so it gave them another avenue.”
All schools in Sioux City have unique logos, and when they change, the district alerts the stores to keep them up to date, Benson said.
The district’s three high schools also have student-operated spirit shops that sell a greater variety of fan products. The shops operate similarly to college bookstores, Benson said. Unlike outside retailers, all profits go to the school’s funds.
Students who run the shop at East High School do so as part of a two-year business and entrepreneurship class. They learn the ins and outs of taking inventory and selling and merchandising their goods, all the while earning class credit.
“They take a lot of pride in it,” said business teacher Kelly Heaton, who supervises the store at East. “It has gotten students who aren’t traditionally involved in maybe a sport or choir or something like that to connect with school and become involved and participate in something.”
Since the class was created six years ago, Heaton said her students have considered registering the school’s roughly 10 different logos.
However, after doing some research, her students realized how onerous the trademark process can become, Heaton said.
“We’ve talked about it, but it’s a big thing,” she said. “So, we kind of shied away from it.”
Shontavia Johnson, a Drake University Law School assistant professor specializing in trademark and copyright law, said the biggest issue with trademark law is often enforcement -- and who’s doing the enforcing.
“In the United States, you don’t really have to do anything other than use a trademark in a trademark sense,” Johnson said.
This allows an organization to acquire what is called "common law right," she said.
“If I don’t believe I have a trademark, I’m not going to enforce it against other people," she said. "As long as I’m not enforcing it, they can do what they want."
In December 2012, the Okoboji Community School District found out the hard way what can happen when enforcement of trademark rights does take place.
The University of Oregon said the Okoboji Pioneer logo – a maroon “O” – looked too much like the Oregon logo, designed by the apparel company Nike.
Early this year, the district unveiled its new logo -- a bearded pioneer wearing a maroon raccoon-skin hat -- after hiring a marketing firm to survey students and parents.
It may take the district several years to completely make the switch, but the university has since backed off its initial request to have the makeover completed within a year.
Brad Graff, co-owner of Wall of Fame, a Sioux City screen-printing shop, provides logo apparel for high school clubs and sports teams.
“We’ve got some really good relationships in place where we’ve been in business with certain sports for years,” Graff said.
After 17 years in business, Graff doesn’t plan on ending the relationship anytime soon, he said.
“There’s always going to be that team or that group that wants to represent their school,” he said. “And I don’t think that business will ever go away.”