It all started with an arbitration filing.
Last week, ASU announced it was pursuing legal action against an adult website, “Sun Devil Angels.” The filing under the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy would prohibit the site from using the words “Sun Devil” in its domain name.
ASU spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said in an email that University policy is not to comment on legal disputes until they are resolved.
Law professor Dennis Karjala, who specializes in copyright law, said the ICANN dispute is only about the domain name “Sun Devil Angels.” If the site were to use ASU’s logo or colors, then it would be a trademark infringement case that would be resolved in court.
“The true logo is the domain name,” he said. “The ICANN proceeding … is extrajudicial. It’s limited solely to domain names.”
This is not the first time that ASU has disapproved of the use of “Sun Devil” in instances where it’s not affiliated with the University. According to a January 2010 State Press article, the University sent a cease and desist notice to SanTan Brewing Company to change the name of Sun Devil ale, one of the brewery's best-selling beers.
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, ASU owns four trademarks over the words Sun Devils: typed drawing for athletic events; typed drawing for cups, mugs and other containers; typed drawing for publications and typed drawing for clothing items.
Typed drawing trademarks can apply to logos or other uses of a stylized font or colors.
Terri Shafer, associate vice president of marketing at ASU, said the University's brand is much more than a logo or a brand identity. Brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization, she said.
“A brand is really who we are and what we stand for," she said.
The mission of the New American University is an integral part of ASU’s brand, Shafer said. The model was adopted by ASU President Michael Crow when he arrived in 2002 and includes eight goals: leverage our place, transform society, value entrepreneurship, conduct use-inspired research, enable student success, fuse intellectual disciplines, be socially embedded and engage globally.
“If you look at the New American University and what it means … those are the kind of messages we communicate to prospective students and their parents,” Shafer said.
Technical communication junior Andrew Thompson, who grew up in California, said ASU’s brand is very attractive to out-of-state students.
“I know a lot of people from California that come here to go to business school,” he said. “I came here, because they offer a great technical communication program.”
Both the perception and reality of ASU have changed since the introduction of the New American University mission, Shafer said. The graduation rate has gone up dramatically, and the research expenditure has tripled, she said.
“We’ve increased dramatically the diversity of the institution,” she said. “If you look across the board at all the measures of the New American University, we’re excelling.”
People recognize the success of the brand, Shafer said.
“There are indicators that show we’re achieving our mission,” she said. “People are realizing that.”
Interdisciplinary studies senior Camilo Fonseca said the New American University mission has made progress so far, but it has been slow.
“(The perception of ASU) is neutral at this point,” he said. “It’s gone from being a very negative one to a neutral one, and it’s still in transition.”
Fonseca said the University should keep trying to distance itself from a bad image.
“One thing that I have heard is to lower the acceptance rate,” he said. “I think that’s one of the big things. Also promote the academic progress.”
Brent Townsend, a representative from Sun Devil Angels, said the company was not infringing on any of the Sun Devil trademarks owned by ASU. The website, which has existed since 2004, is based in New Jersey.
“Arizona State University, through their representative, has indicated the University has attempted to resolve this matter with Sun Devil Angels prior to the initiation of the most recent legal proceedings,” he said in an email. “Sun Devil Angels has not been contacted by any representative from the University with respect to a settlement regarding the rights of Sun Devil Angels.”
Sun Devil Angels is willing to reach a resolution with ASU, Townsend said.
Justice studies senior Victoria Cook said she understands why ASU does not want to be associated with Sun Devil Angels because of the negative connotations, but if the website was not popular, it would have been easier to ignore it.
“I don’t think people outside of Arizona would associate Sun Devils (with ASU), and there’s other places that use the name,” she said.
ASU is probably trying to distance itself from the image of a party school, Cook said, but ASU is entitled to use any laws protecting the name.
According to Playboy magazine’s list of party schools, ASU ranked No. 3 in 1987, No. 1 in 2002, No. 3 in 2006 and did not appear on the list in 2012.
Cook, who is from Tempe, said she grew up with the image of ASU as a party school and doesn’t think the perception has changed yet.
“We need to concentrate on being more academic,” she said. “I’d like to see (ASU) as more scholarly and more academic.”
Kinesiology junior Alison Minor said the use of Sun Devil is not enough for the arbitration filing against Sun Devil Angels.
ASU should strive to establish itself as a respected academic institution, Minor said.
“(ASU) should talk more about just education and try to get the best professors,” she said.
Thompson said ASU has a right to choose the corporations it goes after if University administration deems them inappropriate.
“I know a couple of businesses with the name ‘Sun Devil’ in Mesa,” he said. “By extension, you would have to pursue them.”
According to the Arizona Corporation Commission, 140 corporations, some of which are are affiliated with the University, include the words "Sun Devil" in their names.
One of them is the family-owned Sun Devil Liquors, which has operated in Mesa for almost 25 years. Trisha Ogorek, one of the owners, said the store has never had any issues with ASU over its name.
“(The name is) registered … as a trademark for us,” she said. “ASU can’t come after us for using the name.”
Sun Devil Liquors’ logo does not use any ASU-related colors or typed drawing.
“We bought the store as is and kept the name as is,” Ogorek said. “Since it was already established, we kept the name.”
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