Syracutie comes to SU bookstore after conflict with university
For one Syracuse University alumnus, the start of the academic year marked the end of a three-year effort to bring her Syracuse-themed shirts and merchandise to campus.
Alyson Shontell, founder of Syracutie, reached an agreement with SU that allows Syracutie apparel to be sold in the Schine Student Bookstore, the Carrier Dome and on the bookstore’s website.
The agreement arrives 16 months after Shontell published a first-person account in Business Insider detailing her frustrations with the university for contesting her trademark on the word “Syracutie” and claiming the university was stifling her start-up.
“It’s been such a long time coming,” said the triumphant Syracutie founder, whose negotiations with the university first became public in April 2011, two years after she first contacted the university about selling Syracutie shirts on campus.
Shontell, an editor at Business Insider, hoped to sell Syracutie apparel in the campus bookstore, but said discussions with the university were “not budging.” SU initially opposed Shontell’s trademark, saying “Syracutie” resembled the university’s name too closely and recommended she grant SU the trademark. The university eventually offered an agreement that would name Shontell sole licensor of “Syracutie,” but would have required her to hand the trademark to the university without compensation.
Dubious of both options, Shontell sounded off on her initial dealings with the university on the April 2011 Business Insider website post titled “The Aggravating Story Of How My Alma Mater Is Killing My Startup.”
Negotiations resumed shortly after Shontell’s article was published. Nearly a year and a half later, an agreement allowing Syracutie to be sold on the SU campus was finalized between SU and Shontell’s camp. A Syracutie crew neck and V-neck debuted in the campus bookstore last week, the once-contested trademark printed on each, she said.
Shontell said she believes support from the university community combined with local media attention and expertise from Syracuse-based attorney Matt Van Rynn helped soften SU’s initial stance on the trademark and resulted in negotiations that satisfied both Shontell and the university.
SU was concerned with protecting the university’s brand, while Shontell’s foremost focus was safeguarding her company, she said.
“It really was just finding that middle ground,” Shontell said.
Marc Donabella, director of marketing and trademark licensing at SU, said in an email the agreement works in both parties’ favor.
“We believe that it would be beneficial to both the university and Alyson if we combined efforts on marketing a University-based trademark,” he said, adding that the university enjoys that the clothing appeals to women and children.
As a licensed vendor with SU, Shontell is authorized to print images trademarked by the university as well as to utilize the university’s signature blue and orange colors, which she previously shied away from.
“I can kind of go crazy and get them in as many places as possible,” she said.
Bookstore manager Gale Youmell said she gladly chose two designs to be sold in the bookstore once an agreement was reached. A navy blue Syracutie V-neck with text reading “Syracutie” wrapped around the shirt’s side is available, as well as a white “Love SU” crew neck.
“I think it will be very popular,” Youmell said. “It’s very cute.”
Van Rynn, Shontell’s lawyer, attributed the success of reaching a satisfying agreement to the company’s “dogged persistence.” When he initially took up Shontell’s cause, he said he was met with the same “indifference Alyson encountered.”
While Van Rynn, who works with start-ups in Syracuse, lauds the university for supporting entrepreneurship, he said he believes his early encounters with SU’s lawyers did not reflect the same culture of entrepreneurship stressed by the school.
“The law firm seemed to be out of step with an important mission of the university, which is entrepreneurship,” he said. “I think while they’re doing their job — protecting trademarks for the university, they need to be more broadminded in the way they interact with their constituencies.”
Shontell, who has since broadened her entrepreneurial endeavors to include “Americutie,” is looking to expand Syracutie further and is seeking a student fashion designer to help design and produce merchandise appealing to SU students.
Said Shontell: “There’s really nothing cooler than seeing your friends wear a shirt you came up with — or seeing it in the SU bookstore, for that matter.”
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