The Houston Oilers were part of the NFL decades ago, but the team moved. They became the Tennessee Titans and switched all of their branding. Later, a new team was established in Houston, which is now known as the Texans.
The University of Houston, to pay tribute to the heritage of football played in the city, had been having college football players wear jerseys that were styled on the old Houston Oilers uniforms. They had the same shade of light blue, the same white helmets with blue and red stripes, and much more. They’re not exactly the same as the old Oilers uniforms, but they are clearly inspired by them.
However, the NFL recently sent the University of Houston a cease-and-desist letter, saying that they can no longer use those light blue uniforms. The NFL claims that doing so infringes on a trademark held by the league. In fact, some reports claim that the university was “blatantly copying” the old Oilers uniforms.
Is this the only University to do so?
Interestingly, it doesn’t look like Houston was the only university to use these old Oilers uniforms, or at least a similar style. The same thing was done at Rice University. According to some reports, the NFL has not contacted Rice at all.
Although there are certainly going to be University of Houston fans who are disappointed, the NFL does appear to have a legitimate claim. Technically, that style and branding is still owned by the Tennessee Titans. Using it without permission, especially to sell tickets to games or to sell jerseys, is prohibited.
This is a very high-profile case, but it does demonstrate why it’s important for business owners to understand trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property violations. Those involved need to carefully consider their legal rights.