On May 7, attorney Kevin M. Hayes, on behalf of the University of Oregon’s intellectual property counsel, wrote a letter to the current leader of the Oregonians for Immigration Reform, Cynthia Kendoll, in regards to the similarities between the the UO’s “O” logo and the the logo being used by OFIR.
OFIR, an anti-immigration organization that was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was co-founded by Jim Ludwick and two others in 2000. Ludwick, originally from San Diego, served as president of OFIR from 2001 to 2010 before being replaced by Kendoll. Ludwick claims that the “O” logo attached to the organization looks nothing like UO’s.
“We designed the logo in 2002. It actually predates the UO’s logo,” Ludwick said. “And you’ve seen the difference. Nobody would mistake our ‘O’ for the University of Oregon’s ‘O.’ It’s crazy.”
The first usage of the Oregon “O,” designed by Nike, was in 2001. The letter became the schools official mark in 2003, and trademarked in 2004.
OFIR is known for successfully helping to overturn a 2013 bill that granted undocumented immigrants the ability to get drivers licenses. They’re currently collecting signatures attempting to repeal Oregon’s decades old Sanctuary City laws, which offer legal protections for undocumented immigrants. The group needs to collect 88,184 signatures to qualify for the ballot by November.
Christopher Chavez, associate professor in the advertising department at UO’s School of Journalism and Communication, said that the OFIR “O” has enough in common with the UO’s to be considered problematic.
“I do think that it does warrant a concern for the university. The specific color of green and the shape of the “O” are similar enough that they have the potential to cause confusion,” Chavez said.
Chavez maintains that OFIR is likely aware of the similarities between logos, possibly attempting to align themselves with the nationally recognized Oregon logo.
“OFIR is simply trying to present a friendly face to what many consider to be a hate group. The Oregon logo has become synonymous with the state of Oregon and generally received favorably. OFIR is likely hoping to capitalize on that positive sentiment,” Chavez said.
UO spokesperson Tobin Klinger said that it’s common for the university to send out letters asking organizations to change their logo because it’s too similar or identical.
“Over the last three years, for example, nearly 20 such cease and desist letters have been sent,” Klinger said. “As have nearly 600 of what’s known as “take down requests,” which are sent to request vendors remove items for sale that use the ‘O’ without permission.”
According to UO advertising professor Kim Sheehan, many people could potentially associate OFIR’s “O” without thinking about it too much.
“Many people will look at a logo very quickly and then associate it with something that’s already in their memory — for this reason, I would anticipate that some people will assume the OFIR is affiliated with the UO given that the UO’s logo is most likely much more well-known than OFIR’s,” Sheehan said. “OFIR will benefit from the positive goodwill generated by the ‘O.’ UO has more to lose, perhaps, as the mission of OFIR seems to go against the mission of the UO and any connection with OFIR will harm the UO’s brand.”
UO freshman Veronika Vike doesn’t believe that the logo is similar enough to garner this type of attention.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Vike said. “To me, all this press is just bringing more attention to the group in general. Bad press is still press.”
OFIR founder Ludwick remains unconvinced that UO actually cares about the logo in the first place, citing political motives as the real reason for the letter.
“I don’t think they actually have a problem with the logo.They want to say they have trouble with it, just to go against us. I think it’s purely a political move by the university,” Ludwick said.
UO sent the letter only five days after the University of Oregon Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or MEChA, a student group that provides resources for Latinx students in higher education, sent a letter to the UO’s General Counsel detailing the resemblance of the two “O’s” and asked for action to be taken against the group.
Ludwick confirmed that OFIR’s attorney had sent a response back to UO before the May 11 deadline. The contents of the letter haven’t been made public, due to the pending status of the case.