UT tells Austin donut shop to stop making 'Longhorn Donuts'

Angel Seng is the owner of Donut Taco Palace 1 on 290 West. She's the mastermind behind the shop's donuts in the shape of hand gestures. How she does it is a secret and she says it's no easy task.

Seng says she's made the "Longhorn Donuts" since about 2008.  But in July, she received a cease and desist letter from trademark attorneys representing the University of Texas.

"It's not right.  It's not fair too, I'm a small business and I support every school around here," Seng said.

Included with the cease and desist -- a photo of her donuts and an illustration of the "hook 'em horns" hand symbol which the University owns a Federal Registration for according to the document.

The law firm wrote: We trust that, now that these rights have been brought to your attention, you will take the appropriate steps to discontinue sales of the "Longhorn Donuts" and refrain from any other uses of the University's marks.

Seng hasn't stopped making the donuts.  She just calls them something different:  "Lavaca," Spanish for "The cow."

Austin trademark attorney Brian Hall who has nothing to do with this case says it's common practice.  He says it's a matter of balancing artistic freedom with brand confusion.

"Obviously in the whole scheme of things a donut shop wouldn't necessarily equate to if there was another University using that symbol or if there was some massive commercial use of it in connection with some other use or service but at the end of the day any trademark owner has this duty to protect and enforce their trademark rights or they risk losing rights in them," Hall said.

University of Texas spokesperson J.B. Bird says situations like this happen from time to time.  But he says they have to be responsible stewards of state funds and part of that is making money off of the brand to keep the tuition low.

"I know it seems, you know can seem tough and we really appreciate that people want to celebrate the Longhorn brand.  We respect that, we're really grateful for it.  But we do work with small businesses all the time and we have to be fair and consistent with how we do that," Bird said.

He says businesses both large and small go through the school's office of Brand, Trademarks and Licensing in order to use the trademarks.

"It's only fair that other people go through that as well.  It would be unfair if we were to ask some people and not others so we have to be consistent in how we do it," Bird said.

"We call it 'Lavaca' so I hope they move away...move on," Seng said.

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