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Miami-Dade Schools to explore logo licensing and trademarking

The T-shirts, hats and sweaters bear the names and logos of some of South Florida’s most popular high school teams, and they’re found just about everywhere.

Online. At flea markets. Out the back of trucks at football games. At big box retailers.

And the Miami-Dade school district isn’t terribly happy about it, because in many cases, district officials say, the products are made and sold without consent - and without a penny going to schools.

“Make no mistake, the sale of [Miami-Dade County Public Schools] branded items has become big business,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “The one element that’s lacking here is that big business and profit never reverts, at least in part, back to the public school system, back to our schools, back to our kids.”

That might soon change.

On Wednesday, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to explore the establishment of a trademark and licensing program that would create official district merchandise and at the same time outlaw pirate products. Carvalho hopes creating such a program will bring in dollars otherwise being lost to unlicensed products and protect schools from having their names and logos used in an “unflattering light.”

He said the program would allow vendors to sell licensed products for a fee or percentage, create an official tag for licensed products, and provide fee waivers for organizations like booster clubs and alumni associations. He said the district would create a sales distribution program that gives a percentage of proceeds to the school whose brand sells a product while spreading some of the profits to less popular schools.

It’s unclear just how much money is at stake.

But William “D.C.” Clark, president of the Miami Central Senior High Alumni Group, said popular inner-city high schools like his alma mater are missing out as unlicensed vendors capitalize on their names and mascots.

“A lot of cats are getting fat off this industry,” he said. “You can go into Kmart right now and see them selling Central and Edison gear with no compensation to the School Board or those respective schools.”

The money in high school sports is prompting schools and school boards across the country to trademark their brands, said Jaime Rich Vining, an attorney who teaches trademark law as a University of Miami adjunct professor.

She said going after pirate manufacturers and distributors may not be simple, because vendors who have sold a product for years have a bolstered defense if the district comes after them.

“If you rest on our laurels and don’t systematically protect your trademark, then the third party can use your inaction as a defense,” she said.

Board member Raquel Regalado made that point Wednesday, and said she hopes the district will allow some time for vendors to comply with the district’s new policies.

For those who won’t, Carvalho said the school district is willing to fight.

In other action Wednesday, the School Board unanimously agreed to hire the New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff to oversee its $1.2 billion capital bond program.

The prominent engineering firm will be responsible for ensuring that bond-funded construction projects come in on time and on budget. Voters approved the taxpayer-backed projects in November as a means to renovate aging school buildings and upgrade classroom technology.

The seven-year deal is worth about $3.2 million the first year. The company has yet to sign.

The board also approved $170 million in year-one bond projects, and voted for the issuance of the first $200 million of bonds to sell and another $100 million in low-interest financing from Citibank.