For small businesses still in their infancy, every decision can feel magnified and carry the feeling that the entire fate of the business is at stake. It's a familiar feeling for most entrepreneurs. Now Alyson Shontell, a young entrepreneur who created the tee shirt company Syracutie, can empathize. In a blog post last week, she chronicled the fascinating story of her start-up and the difficult choice she's facing with managing her trademarked name. Shontell's problem is that Syracutie was created to capitalize on the natural market of students at Syracuse University; however, the University became less than supportive (threatening with a possible lawsuit) of their alumna's company if she doesn't hand over the trademark. Feeling "defeated," Shontell is considering whether to "give the university my trademark and become the sole licensor or hold strong and keep trying to sell Syracutie myself?"
However, with two strategically strong options, defeat should be the last thing Shontell should be feeling. By giving the trademark to the University, the door to its target demographic swings wide open. The Syracutie name is sold on and around campus in traditional orange and blue and Shontell can sit back and collect a healthy share of the profits. With this option, the logic is that it's better to share your trademarked idea or brand with the masses rather than protect your small piece of the world. Isn't the fact that an idea spread to thousands of students who wear a label created by an entrepreneur worth something? I think so.
Her other option would be to challenge her alma mater. By pushing forward with ownership of the trademark, the Syracutie brand could develop a deeper identity than tee shirts and hoodies for co-eds; one that represents young, strong, and independent women who are unafraid to challenge the establishment. The clothing brand not endorsed by Syracuse University is powerful idea that appeals to a young psychographic. It's similar to the phenomenon of Four Loko flying off store shelves after it was banned by government regulators. A rebel brand done right is often one that sells.
I believe that Shontell's Syracutie can find great success with either route if she trusts her marketing instincts. As for a University that has the audacity to attempt to trademark the color orange, they should be extra embarrassed to claim that anyone, much less one of their own, might infringe on their marks.
This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog.