Even though the year is 2015, two schools recently engaged in a dispute reminiscent of the Old West. This past October, Oklahoma State University ("OSU" or "Oklahoma State") sued New Mexico State University ("NMSU" or "New Mexico State") for using a cowboy mascot on certain team apparel that was "confusingly similar" to Oklahoma State's venerable Pistol Pete, whose image is a registered trademark of OSU. Despite an apparent decades-long history of New Mexico State previously using a Pistol Pete mascot, Oklahoma State filed a trademark infringement complaint in federal court, formally requesting that NMSU bench its own Pistol Pete immediately. Such action had been informally requested of NMSU previously, but NMSU had shown resistance to disassociating itself from its lucky charm, at least for use on "classic" apparel.
The Pistol Pete caricature is based on Frank Eaton, a Hall of Fame gunslinger from the late 1800s. Eaton, better known as Pistol Pete (not to be confused with "Pistol Pete" Maravich, a sharpshooter of a different kind who played in the NBA almost a half-century ago), acquired his nickname after he outshot United States Cavalry men at age 15. For Oklahoma State, Eaton is significant because he is buried in the state of Oklahoma. For New Mexico State, legend has it that he once won a hotly contested gun fight in New Mexico's capital of Albuquerque.
According to Oklahoma State, the University has been using trademarks depicting Pistol Pete since at least 1930, whereas New Mexico State waited until the 1960s to sign him as a free agent and make him their mascot. While Pistol Pete is still the face of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, New Mexico State eventually transitioned into its own gun-toting, mustachioed mascot in the 2000s, officially known as "Classic Aggie." Interestingly, the University of Wyoming also once claimed a version of Pistol Pete as its athletic mascot, and tried to register the image with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in 1989, provoking an outcry from Oklahoma State. Instead of the conflict reaching a boiling point, however, the two sides came to an agreement for University of Wyoming's concurrent use of a cowboy image, with different coloring. To mark its territory moving forward, OSU displayed the letter "R" on its Pistol Pete marks. While NMSU rebranded its image about a decade ago, the modern mascot was not part of the complaint. Rather, the lawsuit was sparked when an old image resurfaced as part of a line of Classic Aggie merchandise, which Oklahoma State deemed confusingly similar to its own trademarked mascot.
In a case reminiscent of Yosemite Sam's declaration to Bugs Bunny that "this town ain't big enough for the two of us," Oklahoma State filed a complaint on October 20, 2014 in the Western District of Oklahoma, asserting claims of trademark infringement and unfair competition. (Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges Board of Regents v. New Mexico State University, No. 14-01147 (W.D. Okla. Filed Oct. 20, 2014)). The complaint not only demanded attorney's fees and any and all profits derived from use of the Pistol Pete image, but also asked for all products, printed materials, signage and other articles that included Pistol Pete's image in NMSU's possession to be destroyed.
Just as the parties lined up for a legal showdown, the two schools settled the whole shootin' match and entered into a licensing agreement. Under the terms, Oklahoma State will collect a nominal fee of $10 a year and allow New Mexico State to continue using the Classic Aggie image on a limited number of items sold in the school's bookstore, online, or through alumni relations – this allowance is being capped at 3,000 items per year. Otherwise, Pistol Pete will remain in the hoosegow, or NMSU's penalty box, as the school will be prohibited from using the image or mascot in relation to its athletic program. If New Mexico State breaks one of the covenants, OSU would have the ability to bring another suit. For the time being, Pistol Pete and Classic Aggie will continue to coexist as rivals in separate leagues, refusing to go down without a bang.