I’ll spare you the Steely Dan joke (can’t find a fitting one right now) and jump right into the facts:

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard arguments today in the trademark infringement case between sports artist Daniel Moore and the University of Alabama.  Alabama sued Moore in 2005 alleging that Moore’s paintings, which depict scenes from Alabama Crimson Tide football games, infringe on Alabama’s trademark rights.

In 2009, the lower court found that Moore’s paintings and prints did not infringe and were protected free speech but that other items — such as coffee mugs — were infringing.  Apparently, the parties were unhappy with the court’s “split the baby” approach, as they both appealed.

I blog a lot about public relations concerns as they relate to trademark law, and although the mere fact of filing suit is often seen as bad PR, I did like the soundbite from university spokeswoman Deborah Lane.  From Businessweek:

Lane said the University of Alabama has licensing agreements with some 600 business owners and that supporters want to buy products “that benefit the university they love rather than an unlicensed competitor.

“The university asks that businesses — like (Moore’s) New Life Art — that profit from the university’s name and reputation pay a few cents in licensing fees out of each dollar they receive from the sale of merchandise bearing university trademarks,” she said. “These licensing fees fund academic scholarships for UA students.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  There’s a lot at stake here not only for the parties, but also in terms of the precedent this will set for universities and artists.