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Port: UND now owns 'NODAK' trademark, says it didn't cost them anything

"We're still left with many questions," Port writes.

White University of North Dakota "NODAK" jerseys
White "NODAK" jerseys used by the University of North Dakota's men's hockey team.
Contributed / UND

MINOT, N.D. — Well, that was quick.

On Thursday, I wrote about the 'NODAK' nickname the University of North Dakota men's hockey team has been using on their jerseys this year, and last year, and the fact that a business entity associated with head coach Brad Berry's daughter owned the rights to it. At the time I published that, all UND would tell me is that they were in the process of resolving the issue with the trademark.

That evening, in a blog post , the university said they acquired the trademark, which didn't cost them anything.

"The University and NODAK LLC have today entered into an agreement whereby the LLC has expressly acknowledged the University’s existing rights in the NODAK mark as the senior user, and formally transferred ownership of its registration to the University," reads the university's statement . "This agreement involved no financial transaction between the University and the LLC and is believed to be in the best interests of all concerned."

The university also states that they began using the "NODAK" artwork months prior to it being registered with the federal government by Brianna Berry's business entity. They also claim that, in their opinion, their past association with the "NODAK" trademark had already established their claim to it.

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Regardless of whether or not that's true, it's now a moot point. UND has acquired the trademark.

The agreement involved no financial transaction between UND and the LLC and “is believed to be in the best interests of all concerned,” the release said.

Still, we're left with many questions.

Why did this happen? Registering a trademark is not free, nor is it an uncomplicated process. It can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. I know because I've been through this process. An LLC was also formed to take ownership of the registered trademark, and those cost time and money to create. Many people hire lawyers to do it for them.

Brianna Berry, and whoever else may have been working with her, clearly had some motivation. What was it? Berry and whoever her partners might be registered this trademark more than two years ago, and it's been used extensively by the university since then. If the intent was to gift it to the university, why hadn't they done that?

Brad-Berry-091919.N.DNT_.NCHC_.C01
North Dakota head coach Brad Berry.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Why did this become an issue now? The university has been reticent when it comes to divulging details about this situation, but the impression I've been left with was that they were aware of the trademark issue and working on a resolution before I contacted them. What prompted them to do that? "The University has never been asked or required to pay royalties for use of this mark by any party," their statement claims, but did Brianna Berry, or someone representing the ownership of the trademark, contact the university about it?

Finally, what was Brad Berry's involvement? Even if there wasn't an ask for money, Coach Berry is in charge of which uniforms the hockey team uses. Something that, in turn, has an impact on the value this trademark which is owned by a business entity associated with his daughter.

North Dakota University System policy 308.4 requires employees to "remain free from the influence of, or appearance of, any conflicting interest when acting on behalf of the SBHE, NDUS or any institution," with a conflict defined as "any known interests and activities of the individual as well that of the individual’s spouse, significant other, or immediate family member."

Can we say that in this instance, coach Berry — one of the highest-paid public officials in the state of North Dakota — has lived up to that policy?

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That answer requires more information.

What was his involvement, if any, in the formation of the LLC and the acquisition of the trademark? Did his daughter tell him she was involved with trademarking something the university was using? If he knew, when, if at all, did he communicate that knowledge to the university?

Nothing in the university's statement addresses these questions, and that's too bad.

The taxpayers of North Dakota deserve a more fulsome explanation than what we're getting.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS
Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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