CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The silhouette of a bucking horse with lowered head, kicking rear legs and a hat-waving cowboy on its back is ubiquitous in Wyoming, evoking six-shooter-and-calico-dress drama of the Old West.
It’s stamped on the license plate, pressed on University of Wyoming gear, stenciled on military equipment, even woven into the carpet in the governor’s office. Businesses use it too: from Jackson Hole Ski Corp. in Teton Village to Wild, Wild West Cowboy Cookie Cutters in Cheyenne.
But if you’re not authorized to display the bucking horse, beware.
Secretary of State Joe Meyer and Gov. Dave Freudenthal have asked the Legislature to front $1 million to wage a legal battle with the Texas Stampede, a Dallas organization that holds an annual rodeo for children’s medical charities, if it does not stop using the logo. Lawmakers will consider the proposal when they meet next month.
“It represents Wyoming,” summed up Meyer, a former attorney general and University of Wyoming roommate with Vice President Dick Cheney.
“There is such a pride of ownership in all the citizens of this state. UW has used it forever. Certainly our troops over in Iraq have it on their uniforms. It’s simply us.
“It’s similar to looking at the single star and thinking of Texas and the pine tree and thinking of Vermont. It is that significant to us as an identification.”
The Texas Stampede filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office a few months ago for ownership of the logo. Wyoming opposed the filing and the Texas Stampede, which was established in 2001, responded by saying Wyoming had abandoned the mark.
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is not expected to rule on the matter for perhaps another six months. Wyoming could take the matter to federal court if it disagrees with the ruling or before then, in which case the board would likely defer to the judge in the case.
The Texas Stampede and Wyoming logos are virtually identical. The only difference is the Texas Stampede logo faces left and the Wyoming logo right, and chaps are depicted on the Texas Stampede cowboy.
“Of course you can have arguments ... having the horse face a different direction or some other type of thing,” Meyer said. “We’ve won all those battles.
“We want everyone to understand, and say it: We own it. It’s ours. And that’s a condition of retaining the right to a copyright.”
He said he hates to see either Wyoming or the Texas Stampede pay attorney’s fees, especially if the charity’s money would otherwise be helping disabled children.
A Texas Stampede spokeswoman declined to comment.
But Ted Stevenson, a patent and trademark attorney in Dallas, is not as confident as Meyer that Wyoming has a case. He explains that there are two types of trademark cases: infringement and dilution.
“In an infringement case, you’ve got to prove that consumers are confused. I don’t think it’s likely that anyone going to the Texas Stampede is confused and thinks it has to do with Wyoming because of the logo,” he said Thursday.
Making a dilution case requires a logo to be famous. “Like Coca-Cola — all over the world almost,” he said.
“It may be famous within the state of Wyoming,” he said. “But probably outside I think they would have a very hard time proving they have a famous mark.”
Wyoming doesn’t necessarily have a problem with people using the bucking horse logo. It just wants people to get permission.
As of December, 593 businesses had agreements with the state to use the logo. Although the agreements do not cost anything, they usually are not awarded outside Wyoming and proposals must be submitted for review.
Another 126 businesses in Wyoming and 17 outside the state were licensed to use the logo in their products. The licenses are also free but subject to both approval and a 6.5-percent royalty for businesses in Wyoming and a 7.5-percent royalty for businesses outside the state.
Meyer says Wyoming earned upward of $100,000 in royalties last year.
This is not the first time Wyoming has fought for the right to the bucking horse and rider.
In 2001, McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., bowed to pressure from Wyoming and changed its bucking horse logo to make its front feet raised instead of its rear feet. The same year, New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., changed its bucking horse logo by taking the hat out of the cowboy’s hand and putting it on his head.
The logo goes back to at least World War I, when it was part of an insignia worn by the Wyoming National Guard. The Wyoming Military Department has since used the logo in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.