Trademarks can be attacked on many grounds, such as lack of distinctiveness or misuse. Lately, however, the trademarks of some universities have been under threat from an usual source: boobs. The Twitter account @KUboobs posts pictures of women’s chests with something related to KU in the photo. The photos are usually provocative and are taken by the young women themselves before being submitted to KUboobs for posting. The boob-centric company was also selling “I <3 KUboobs” wrist bands and donating part of the profits to breast cancer research. However,  KUboobs found itself in hot water last week with the university’s trademark lawyers, who wrote that the boob pictures and wrist bands constituted “trademark infringement and unfair competition,” and that the public would erroneously believe that Kansas University endorsed or sponsored KUboobs.

After making the university’s cease and desist letter public, KUboobs has received a lot of support from the online community, even launching a #saveKUboobs campaign to generate public support. The effort was apparently successful, as the university felt enough pressure that the administration partially backed down. The school now says it is not going after the @KUboobs Twitter account and is only trying to stop the sale of the “I <3 KUboobs” wristbands, as it must protect its trademarks under federal law in order to retain them.

After the school changed its position, the @KUboobsw Twitter feed is apparently back online and here to stay. Despite KU’s best efforts, it appears the boobment will continue gathering momentum: for now at least, Twitter accounts like @KUboobs, @UKboobs, and @Mizzouboobs can still operate, spreading school spirit across the twitterverse.

–Andrew Bauer

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3 Responses to Can’t Stop This Boobment

  1. Stewart Bohan says:

    I agree with you guys about the fact that the twitter feeds and social media sites are likely fine, and for the reasons you stated. However, looking at the articles Andrew linked to, it seems that a big problem for the university was the sale of the wristbands, which is a valid point for a couple of reasons. One, which Andrew mentioned, is that KU’s failure to police infringements of its mark can lead to dilution of their mark, which decreases KU’s ability to protect its mark. Second, and more problematic, is that KU likely licenses the rights to its marks to merchandisers who sell things like t-shirts, school supplies, and even wristbands, featuring the KU logo. Allowing products that use KU’s marks without a license from the university undermines KU’s relationships with their merchandisers, which could also have a negative financial impact on the school. At least in terms of any products being sold that feature my mark, I would err on the side of protecting that mark.

  2. Thomas says:

    John, while I think the derogatory/demeaing to women argument could be a valid one. I don’t think it is in this instance. On KUboobs, and every other similar twitter (basically every large school has one now), the pictures are 100% voluntary. Further, if schools start bringing actions like this, does it open up the door to suits against all of the social media parody type accounts (like “overheard at,” various meme sites/facebook pages, the “secrets of” pages, etc.)? Or do you think a school would only care about these accounts since the focus is on something that the schools might seem as demeaning/sexual? Also I think it bears mentioning that what kind of effect would the school face if it pursued actions like that? How “fun” a school is is a part of the decisionmaking process of a large number of high school seniors every year. Could current or future students change their decisions based on what they perceive to be an administration that can’t take a joke?

  3. John Lomascolo says:

    I think this is a really interesting issue since valid arguments can really be made for both sides. I do think KU should be able to prevent itself from being involuntarily associated with anything that is potentially derogatory or demeaning to women, or anyone, and that could possibly bring a bad name to the university. But, on the other hand, I don’t think that simply showing these types of pictures, which really aren’t that bad or explicit, while simply saying that these girls are from KU, equals any type of infringement against a trademark. If I showed a normal picture of myself and said I went to RPI, I wouldn’t be infringing on any trademark of RPI’s. Also, if these accounts are receiving an overwhelming amount of positive support, it could really be good for the school. I think KU did the right thing by backing off and avoiding a potential backlash from fans and supporters of the accounts. It will be interesting to see what happens to these accounts in the future, and if more like them start to emerge.