Frequently Asked Questions

Trademark Basics

A trademark is a word, slogan, symbol, design, or combination of these elements, which identifies and distinguishes the goods or services of one party from others. The word trademark or trademark law is frequently used generically to encompass similar identifiers of origin such as service marks, collective marks, certification marks, trade dress, and trade name.

The primary purpose of the trademark laws is to prevent unfair competition by applying a test of consumer confusion and providing rights and remedies to the owner of the trademark.

The test for consumer confusion is to assure that the consumer can be confident that when buying a product or service bearing a particular trademark the product or service expected is actually delivered. In other words, the consumer relies on a standard of quality established by the association of the trademark in the marketplace with the owners product or service.

If the owner of a trademark has spent time and money in presenting a service or product to the consumer, the owner should be able to protect this investment by being allowed to prevent others from using the trademark and profiting from the owners investment. The value of the trademark is determined by the strength, or goodwill, of the association between the trademark and its source, and it is the consumer who determines this value.

Although the trademark identifies the source of the product or service, that source can be the manufacturing source, the selling source, or in case of universities, the source of sponsorship or authorization.

Trademarks are identifiers of commercial products or services; business names, or trade names, identify a business for non-marketing purposes; and copyrights protect individual, original works of expression.

The non-marketing uses of trade names include uses on stock certificates, bank accounts, invoices, letterhead, contracts, i.e. uses which identify the entity. Trade names can also be trademarks when used to identify specific goods and services.

Copyrights do not generally protect individual words or slogans but will protect creative designs. Therefore, a logo design could be protected by both copyright law and trademark law.

A copyright does not exclude others from developing similar or even the same design as long as the creation is independent from and the creator has not had prior access to the other design. Similar trademarks, however, might not be permitted if the public would be confused or if the value of a strong mark would be diminished or tarnished (dilution).

The owner of a trademark is the first to use the mark in interstate commerce and requires continuous use in commerce to retain ownership. The owner of a copyright, depending on the circumstances, is either the creator or the employer and no publication, use or distribution is required.

The copyright owner has rights for a term of 50, 75, or 100 years depending on the entity owning the copyright. The trademark owners rights are indefinite as long as the trademark is properly used and protected by the owner.

Trademark law provides the greatest protection to the marks, which are distinctive, that is, out of the ordinary. Types of inherently distinctive marks include: unique logos (the Nike® swoosh); made up words (Kodak®); fanciful marks, words that give an imaginative image (Airstream® for motor homes); arbitrary marks, words that are surprising or unexpected (Apple® for computers); and suggestive marks, words that cleverly describe the qualities of the product or service (Contact® for self-adhesive shelf paper).

Words that are common or ordinary receive less protection unless they have developed public recognition due to their long use in the market place. These type of marks are said to have acquired a secondary meaning.

Generic marks are common words that describe the product itself and can not be protected by trademark laws. For example, the words Cheese and Noodles could not be protected by trademark if used on a food product consisting of cheese and macaroni.

Preventing infringement is the best defense in protecting a trademark. Preventative measures which can be taken include:

  • federal and state registration: A trademark does not need to be registered for the owner to prevent others from using a trademark or from using a confusingly similar mark. Federal registration provides certain legal advantages to the owner when pursuing infringers. One advantage is that it provides constructive notice to the public which prevents anyone from claiming that they did not know the mark existed. Federal law preempts state law so any state registration performed in addition to federal is for purposes of notice only.

    A trademark can be federally registered if it is used in interstate commerce. The trademark is registered in the class of goods or services for which it is used. It is possible to have multiple owners for similar trademarks as long as 1) the goods and services are not related, 2) there is no consumer confusion as to the source of the goods and services, and 3) there is no dilution of a strong mark.

  • use of notices: Using the ™, SM, or ® provides additional notice to the general public. A registered mark may display the words Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. or ®. These displays may only be used with the registered trademarks and on the goods and services actually stated in the Certificate of Registration. It is illegal to use the registration notice on unregistered trademarks or on unregistered goods and services. Recovery of profits and damages in an infringement suit may not be available to the owner if a proper notice of registration is not given. Proper notice is either the use of one of the three registered notices of actual notice as would be the case in a letter sent to the infringer stating that the mark is a registered trademark or as sometimes seen in documents where an asterisk is used to refer the reader to a footnote providing the notice.

    ™ or SM can be used with a non-infringing trademark without any formalities and can be used on any goods and services for which the owner wants to be associated with the trademark.

  • controlled licensing: The law permits a trademark owner to license its marks as long as the owner controls the nature and quality of the goods or services bearing the marks.
  • pursuing infringers: Abandonment of a trademark can occur if the owner does not take action against infringers.
  • strong marks can claim dilution: Dilution of a mark is a type of infringement in which the infringing use does not necessarily cause confusion but tarnishes the image or blurs the distinctiveness of the owner's mark.


Proper use of the trademark by the owner is also important to its protection. The quality of the goods and services must be maintained for consumer confidence and for strengthening the trademark. The owner should not weaken its own trademarks by using many alterations and blurring its distinctiveness. The more distinctive, the stronger the mark. The trademark owner can create a family of marks that keeps certain elements common among them. If these common elements become recognizable by the public as trademarks of the owner, then it is possible for the owner to have broader protection for other marks that incorporate these same common elements.

Many of Iowa State University’s trademarks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If a trademark bears the ®, then it is a federally registered trademark. If a trademark bears the ™, then it is not federally registered but is still a recognized university trademark. Use of the proper trademark designation symbols in connection with the goods and services associated with the university will assist in effectively protecting the rights that the university has developed in its marks.

Internal Units (Departments, programs, affiliates, etc.)

Yes. All units must fill out a Trademark Internal Use form to request use of the marks and have the use approved by Trademark Licensing. Trademark Licensing's approval process is to ensure a licensed vendor is being used as well as review the design to ensure internal design standards are followed. Included on the form is a section to request a royalty exemption. Exemptions from paying royalties are granted only by Trademark Licensing and based on the use of the marks. It is the responsibility of the unit to complete the Trademark Internal Use form and, it is best to take the form directly to the licensed vendor at the time an order is placed. The licensee will submit the form and design to Trademark Licensing for final approval. If the Trademark Licensing Office grants an exemption, the licensee is required to keep the form on file for auditing purposes.

No. The form was originally called the Royalty Exemption Request form but was renamed to better identify trademark use. Trademark Licensing has always required this form to be filled out. Most units have not realized that the licensees have been filling out the forms on their behalf. On numerous occasions, the licensee does not have all the information or details needed and Trademark Licensing must follow up with the unit. Since it has always been the responsibility of the unit to request use of the marks and a royalty exemption, it should be the unit that fills out the form. The more complete the form and accurate the details, the easier it is for Trademark Licensing to process. If the form is not complete, it will be sent back to the unit, which will cause a delay in processing the information. For a timely response from Trademark Licensing, the unit must complete the form.

Merchandise must be purchased through a licensed vendor. If you choose an unlicensed vendor, the vendor must complete the licensing process before Trademark Licensing will approve the use of the marks. University Marketing has provided design options for units to follow when ordering product to identify the unit and the university. For more information, please visit the following page: Promotional Merchandise Toolkit.

No. The University Marketing's Visual Identity System does not include the use of the older marks as a current brand identifier for the university. Units requesting a variance should contact University Marketing. The Trademark Licensing Office does allow the use of "Old Cy" and some "vintage" marks in the retail market as an option for the general consumer.

The use of The Seal is restricted to the Office of the President and monitored by the Office of University Marketing. Questions should be directed to the Office of University Marketing.

Iowa State University was the first "ISU" institution to apply for and be granted a federal registration for the use of this mark. We exercise common sense and courtesy and do not pursue actions against our fellow "ISU" institutions. However, we actively pursue others from using our mark and/or have agreements in place with outside entities requiring a disclaimer for the use. University Marketing suggests that since there are other institutions that also identify with these initials, units should consider including other marks in applications that are distributed regionally or have national exposure.

To show that an entity claims the right to a mark, a notice is used such as the "™" or "®." The "™" symbol is used to claim common law trademark rights on a mark that is not federally registered in a specific class of goods on which the mark is placed. The "®" notice is used to show the mark is owned and federally registered in a certain class of goods. Units are not required to apply the "™" or "®" to internal printed matter such as stationary, business cards, brochures, flyers, etc. Use of notices is required by the marks when placed on all commercial products such as apparel including shirts, sweatshirts, etc., and novelty or advertising specialties such as pens, mugs, banners, magnets, etc.

No. Photos are considered intellectual property. Any photographs used in your communication must have the approval of the photographer. There are also situations when permission must be obtained from those being photographed. Click here to read the Guidelines for Photo/Image/Voice Permission.

No. Permission to use art on campus must be obtained through University Museums. However, if trademarks are included in the use, Trademark Licensing will need to be involved in the process.

 ISU Printing Services handles all internal business card orders with templates available. Only employed faculty and staff may purchase university business cards. Students and those not employed by the university are not allowed to use the marks to create business cards.

To create a unified brand to identify all university units, the university created the Visual Identity System managed by the Office of University Marketing. Any deviation from this system must be reviewed and a waiver granted by University Marketing.

Typically, units are not allowed to deviate from the Visual Identity System and create a new logo for their unit (see above). However, Trademark Licensing has a questionnaire that can be completed by the unit. Trademark Licensing and the Office of University Counsel review the form and send a recommendation to the Vice President for Business and Finance. It is the responsibility of the Vice President to make the final decision. Should a unit be granted an allowance, which rarely occurs, the unit would be responsible for all fees incurred including but not limited to outside attorney review and search costs and all federal registration fees and maintenance costs. Most units have found that the "up-front" fees and maintenance of a mark in this process and the government requirements are prohibitive when compared to the funds that may or may not be generated by the actual use of the mark.

Cy is Athletics’ mascot and a great brand ambassador for the university.  However, the use of “Cy” must be carefully considered for naming a university program, call to action, or an event.  Because “Cy” is a trademark, use of it should not be incorporated into other words as this dilutes the university’s ownership and may have the appearance of creating a new trademark.  The Cy mark may be used but should be a stand-alone element.  It is encouraged to contact the Trademark Licensing Office and University Marketing for brand and trademark guidance prior to any use and to be sure there are no duplicate usages that may cause confusion.

Employee workwear design standards have not changed. Faculty and staff should review the promotional tool kit available on University Marketing’s website for product color options, which include cardinal, gold, white wheat, and denim ( Student organizations have access to fundraising templates to help them raise revenue. They may use the university’s name but not in the official type style. The student organization fundraiser templates have been designed to avoid the implication that it is university workwear. Student organizations can reference “College of Veterinary Medicine” or “Department of Aerospace Engineering” generally on any color or product type for fundraising purposes but these fundraising design templates cannot replace official employee workwear. Units must follow employee workwear design and color requirements.

  • No design can be associated with a company that would imply sponsorship or endorsement of the company’s commercial product. A waiver to this prohibition may be granted, however, if such endorsement is the subject of an agreement of substantial importance and value to the University. Granting a waiver would permit the University’s Marks to be co-branded with the marks of a company.  Generally, athletics sponsors with logo rights would qualify for this waiver.  For a waiver request, please contact the trademark office.  The University’s brand standards for photography, including where such photography may include the presentation of the brands of others, are available on University Marketing's website.

Athletics Department

Yes. see below for more detail:

Guidelines for trademark use by athletics department staff and students can be found in the athletics style guide.

The Trademark Licensing Office must review the internal use of the trademarks when merchandise is ordered. The vendor producing the items must be licensed. Feel free to contact the Trademark Licensing Office at 515-294-4402 or to ask if a company is licensed or for assistance in finding a licensee to produce your items.

By submitting the request form, you are verifying that you are a representative of ISU Athletics who is allowed to order merchandise. Athletics forms are authorized by Mary Pink, Associate A.D. for Marketing then routed to the Trademark Licensing Office for final approval. You will receive a confirmation email from saying if the order is approved, approved with changes, or if resubmission is required. 

Officially Recognized Student or Campus Organizations

Yes. All organizations must fill out a Trademark Use form to request use of university marks and have the use approved by the Trademark office. The Trademark office approval process is to ensure a licensed vendor is being used as well as review the design to ensure student use design standards are followed.

As a recognized student organization, you must still have permission from the university to use university trademarks.  Your organization’s access to the university’s trademarks is dependent upon its tier. The tiers have been identified by the Student Activities Center as either a Sponsored, Affiliated, or Registered/Campus Organization. For information regarding your organization's tier, please contact the Student Activities Center or visit their website.

Any officer/adviser for your organization may fill out the trademark request form. When you log into our form system, you will see a drop down box that will list any organizations you are an officer/adviser for and you can click the appropriate organization for that order. 

Yes. Your officially registered organization name must be in your designs. If your name does not include language that would identify your group as a university organization, Trademark Licensing will require additional language such as "club", "student chapter", or "student organization" (see Section 6 in the Student Use Guidelines). This applies to all intended uses, including organization member-wear, internal use, giveaways, fundraising/resale and event designs.

The Trademark Office will review design submissions promptly; however, it is recommended that an organization submit a design at least 2 weeks prior to submission of a merchandise order to ensure enough time for review.

No. While Sponsored and Affiliated organizations can use the logos identified in the student use guidelines, the marks cannot be altered or manipulated from the original design. Certain university marks may be eligible for use on apparel with fashion colors, using either the 1-color or 2-color set-up of the mark. However, fashion colors that identify another Iowa university – e.g, gold and black (Iowa), purple and gold (UNI) - may not be used with university trademarks. 

As a recognized student organization, you are tiered by the student activities center as either a Sponsored, Affiliated, or Registered/Campus Organization. The availability of university trademarks is based on your tier level. See the following snapshots (Sponsored, Affiliated, Registered, Fundraising Template) of the Student Guidelines. In here, you will find the marks you are allowed to use as well as examples of what not to do. Trademark will also work with your organization upon submission of a design to ensure it is in compliance. For specific questions, contact    

Go to and search for your organization's name. From there, click on 'Information' and you will see it under 'tier'.

The vintage collection include logos from specific points in university history. To maintain their uniqueness and keep the university’s brand current, we must remain consistent. There are a limited number of licensees permitted to use the university’s Vintage collection, but those licensees are the only ones permitted to use the Vintage collection on behalf of the university. 

 To show that an entity claims the right to a mark, a notice is used such as the "™" or "®." The "™" symbol is used to claim common law trademark rights on a mark that is not federally registered in a specific class of goods on which the mark is placed. The "®" notice is used to show the mark is owned and federally registered in a certain class of goods. Use of notices is required by the marks when placed on printed material on a case-by-case basis and all merchandise such as apparel including shirts, sweatshirts, etc., and novelty or advertising specialties such as pens, mugs, banners, magnets, etc.

A listing of the university’s marks is available here. The university also has retired marks that are no longer used but still protected by the university. If you have any questions about whether or not you are using a trademark, please contact us for further discussion at

Organizations using a university trademark in their design cannot claim ownership or federally register their organization design. However, organizations that choose not to use university marks in their designs have more flexibility in design creation.

The trademarks or other intellectual property of a third party may be used in an organization’s design so long as the organization has written permission from the owner of the intellectual property and, if using a university mark in addition to third party marks, the organization has provided that documentation to the Trademark Office in conjunction with the trademark request form. 

If your organization wishes to use university trademarks on your merchandise, you are required to use a licensed vendor. If you are not using any reference to the university, the use of a licensed vendor is not required. If you have questions on whether or not a university trademark is being used, please contact us for further discussion at

Sponsors or other third parties contributing to an organization’s event or project may be acknowledged for their support, provided there is language to identify the third party’s relationship to the organization (i.e., the organization’s event is “sponsored by” third party) and there is a clear separation between any use of the university mark and sponsor marks to avoid the appearance of an endorsement. 

A trademark request form is required with each design submission. This includes designs previously approved. Trademark must review each design bearing university trademarks prior to use to ensure the designs are in compliance with the university’s trademark policy and guidelines in effect at the time of the design submission. Re-review of designs is required to ensure an organizations’ use of university marks continues to be permitted under the then-current policy and guidelines.

A royalty exemption may be requested in instances where an organization intends to sell licensed merchandise at no cost to its members or on purchases that are given away. Exemptions from paying royalties are granted by Trademark Licensing through the Trademark Use form. It is the responsibility of the organization to complete the Trademark Use form and will need to keep the approval email for their p-card submission.


The royalty is part of the licensed vendor's contract with the university and is not something your organization pays directly to the university. The royalty fee is generally included in your organization's cost to the vendor, then the vendor will pay the royalty to the Trademark office.

Trademark Use forms are available online

Yes. All designs involving university marks submitted to the Trademark Office for review will be routed to your organization’s adviser for review and approval prior to approval by the Trademark office.  

 If a student organization wants to associate with the university, they must include their full recognized name, descriptor (club, student chapter, student organization, etc.) with the at tagline (at ISU, at Iowa State, or at Iowa State University). However, student organizations have access to fundraising templates that may be used that do not include the organization’s officially recognized name, descriptor, or at tagline. These templates cannot be modified and have been designed to avoid the implication that it is university workwear. Student organizations can reference “College of Veterinary Medicine” or “Department of Aerospace Engineering” with the use of the I State logo or Iowa State University in any type style except the official wordmark or a type style that mimics the official wordmark. Any product type or product color may be used for fundraising purposes.


At times it is desirous to use the different Iowa State trademarks on baked goods for events such as graduations, weddings, birthdays, and so on. In those instances, we approve the use of marks by local bakeries on a case-by-case basis. To make a requests, please fill out the following form. This form can also be found at the bottom of the home page.


Yes. As an official licensee of Iowa State, Hy-Vee produces baked goods containing ISU trademarks. 

Iowa State's trademarks are very popular , and students will often want to use them in 4-H projects for their county fair. In order for the fair to show and judge your work, they require a letter of permission from us. Fill out the permission form on our site and allow 3-5 business days for a response. We will send an electronic version of the letter to your email, but a paper copy can be requested if you'd like that as well.

You can also find this form on the bottom of the Home page.