The University of Illinois sued Ted O’Malley, the seller of shirts that feature the University’s former symbol, “Chief Illiniwek,” and the phrase “Make Illinois Great Again” for trademark and copyright infringement, false advertising, trademark dilution, various common law torts, and violations of Illinois consumer protection laws in March of this year. The University owns various intellectual property rights to the word “ILLINOIS” and the Chief Illiniwek image from which O’Malley allegedly based the shirts, and claims that O’Malley’s use of the image and the word “Illinois” with the school’s colors could lead consumers to mistakenly assume the shirts were sanctioned by the university, particularly because O’Malley “specifically marketed them to, and targeted fans of, the University’s sports teams.” O’Malley’s answer is due later this month.

Takeaway: Although the University framed the suit only around quality control and consumer confusion, this suit almost surely will implicate the First Amendment due to the allegedly infringing shirts’ association with the “Make America Great Again” Republican political slogan. As such, this suit may broaden or narrow the First Amendment defense to intellectual property infringement for political speech.