Arizona State University Sues Facebook and Instagram to Protect its Trademark

a male professional at Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig, he is wearing a blue suit and red tie

By Michael Lehr

Lehr is an Attorney at Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig’s Richmond Office.

[Sept. 3, 2020] On Thursday, August 20, 2020, the Arizona Board of Regents filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona over an Instagram account that the University states are infringing upon its valuable trademark rights.  In the suit, Arizona State University (“ASU”) alleges that the Instagram account “asu_covid.parties” is infringing upon both the school’s trademarks and school colors while actively encouraging ASU students to disregard health guidelines and hold large parties.  Once alerted to the account, ASU representatives immediately requested that Instagram and/or Facebook (the social media giant that owns Instagram) take the account down, but to no avail.  As of the date of the filing, the account remained active.

ASU is particularly worried, not only because of the blatant use of its protected marks but also because of the dangerous subject matter and misinformation that the account is spreading under the ASU name. In particular, the account’s owner(s), also named Doe in the suit, has made posts stating that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis that has ravaged the U.S. is a hoax likening ASU administrators to Nazis for requiring students to wear masks and use social distancing techniques.  Moreover, the account encouraged students to hold a large “Hoax-19” party, without masks, to counter the school’s numerous attempts to keep its tens of thousands of on-campus students safe.  The complaint said these statements show clear and willful actions by the account owner(s) to spread misinformation and endanger the lives of those on-campus students. The complaint alleges that an initial investigation shows that one or more of the individuals behind the account are based in Russia and attempting to further worsen the pandemic in the United States from abroad.

In a statement on the lawsuit, ASU President Michael Crow said that “We simply cannot and will not allow the institution and its trademarks to be used for the manipulative and inappropriate purposes of those who cowardly hide behind social media collaborators like Instagram.” Since the date of filing, Instagram and Facebook have taken the account down, citing a violation of their policies, but it begs the question – what took so long?  It is unclear why it took Instagram and Facebook so long to react, prompting a federal court suit. Still, given the need for universities across the country to keep their students safe this school year, it’s understandable that ASU moved quickly to quash this genuine threat to campus life.

Related: Trademark Trial and Appeals Board (TTAB)

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Posted in: Intellectual Property - Trademarks, TTAB