Could Discovery's ‘Ragin' Cajuns' be violating UL's trademark?

by Leslie Turk

Discovery's 'Ragin' Cajuns' has nothing to do with UL Lafayette, and that's why the university has turned its attention to the new series, which debuts Tuesday.

[Editor's Note: This story has been altered to reflect that UL has continuously used the Ragin' Cajuns moniker since first adopting it in the 1960s. It has been brought to our attention that the name may have been used before then by a U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadron as early as 1950. We are trying to confirm the accuracy of that information.]

Discovery's new reality series, Ragin' Cajuns debuts Tuesday at 9 p.m. and follows the livelihood of shrimpers - in much the same vein as Deadliest Catch and Swamp People. The first episode, subtitled "White Gold," is set in Venice.

But there may be a potential problem for the network: Ragin' Cajuns is a federally registered trademark and service mark, just like Xerox or Q-tips. Because the nickname is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, UL has certain ownership and protection rights to the moniker.

"Our office is looking into it right now," says Aaron Martin, UL's director of communications and marketing, who was unaware of the potential infringement until contacted by The Independent in late December. "I do have a call into them. I've talked to their people, and they told me they are going to call me back."

"I'm not thrilled about it," Martin says, stressing there is likely not much that can be done to stop tonight's premiere, even if there is an infringement. "If there is something we can do, it would probably be a cease and desist at some point if you can prove that it's a violation."

Martin, who Monday said he still poring over a thick document to better understand UL's rights, emphasized that trademarks are issued in categories or classes. "There are a bunch of things out there that use the term Ragin' Cajuns; there have been songs, a movie, restaurants," Martin continues. "I know if they start putting stuff on apparel, that gets a little bit, from what I understand, a little bit more definitive."

The use of UL's marks are controlled by its licensing program, which was initiated in 1988. The program is administered by Martin's department, along with UL's licensing agent, Collegiate Licensing Company. The program requires manufacturers to enter into an agreement with the university if they want to produce products bearing UL Lafayette's name or trademarks.

UL Lafayette was the first to adopt and continuously employ the nickname Ragin' Cajuns, using it initially in the 1960s to refer to its football team, according to both UL's website and Wikipedia: "In 1963 football coach Russ Faulkinberry changed the nickname of the football team Bulldogs' to 'Ragin' Cajuns.' By the 1970s, the athletic department, the sports information director Bob Henderson and the student body picked up on the nickname," Wiki notes. "As published in the 1974 football guide, the nickname became official that year."

While UL assesses its rights, the rest of us might want to check out the new reality series, in which local shrimpers will discuss the challenges they face in the aftermath of the BP disaster. The show's executive producer told The Times-Picayune Ragin' Cajuns will be quite different from other popular TV series about hard-working men and women who make their living on the water:

We all know what's on the other networks," said French Horwitz, Discovery's executive producer for the show, which comes from Los Angeles-based Gurney Productions. "This show is different and unique. It isn't Deadliest Catch' in that these guys aren't on the high seas in dangerous surroundings. And it's not Swamp People' in that they're not catching gators.

"It's these special characters that make this show different from anything else that's on our air. They are great guys, they're guys that are doing what they've been doing for hundreds of years, and they're trying to keep up with the tradition.

"This is a special show, unlike anything else that's on the air right now."

Fans of "Swamp People" will especially find it special, I suspect, in that the characters are both larger-than-life and true-to-life for the region. ... Much of what's said in the premiere episode needs subtitles. And a few bleeps.

Read more from the T-P here.