Some say flattery is the sincerest form of imitation.
But the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) says this imitation is breaking the law.
So when the CLC, which handles the Penn State trademark, discovered that Robert L. Patton High School, a Morganton, N.C., high school, had a panther mascot that was "confusingly similar" to the Nittany Lion logo, they called it trademark infringement.
The term "confusingly similar" is a standard under trademark law, said Jim Aronowitz, associate general counsel at the CLC.
Something "confusingly similar" could lead to a customer becoming reasonably confused as to the source, sponsorship or association of a logo, Aronowitz said.
Penn State had no choice, he said. If Penn State chose not to pursue the matter, it would risk losing its trademark because they didn't protect it.
David Burleson, the Morganton school superintendent, said "it was never our intention to copy Penn State's logo."
He said students voted for a panther mascot last December, and many students designed and submitted emblems to be reviewed by faculty and staff. Teachers first approved another trademarked logo, one similar to the Carolina Panthers' logo, until they realized how similar the two logos were.
Burleson said the faculty and staff held a committee in March and April to come up with another logo. He said several faculty members liked Penn State's Nittany Lion design.
Uniform manufacturers told the district the design would not break trademark laws as long as the logo was different from Penn State's by at least 30 percent, Burleson said. The high school then unveiled its faculty-designed logo, a black panther with gray and red accents.
In June, the school district received a letter from the CLC telling the high school the logo needed to go.
The CLC said there is no 30 percent rule.
"That's a rumor that's out there," Aronowitz said.
Some Penn State students said they're happy the high school changed its logo.
"It's like free publicity for [the high school]," Brian Davidson (freshman-biology) said of the high school's original emblem. "They're banking on the fact everyone knows Penn State's logo."
Adam Weaver (freshman-journalism) also said the school should not have been allowed to keep its original logo, adding he might like its new logo better.
"That's not bad," said Weaver, looking at the school's third and remaining logo. "I think they're better off with that one."
Other students didn't believe the change was necessary.
"I didn't think it was that big of a deal," said Katie Quinn (senior-chemical engineering). "I wasn't offended by it as a student. Maybe it's flattering?" she said with a shrug.
Quinn said she prefers Penn State's logo to the high school's new logo.
"I'm probably a little biased though," she said.
The CLC deals with between 30 and 40 cases of collegiate trademark infringement by high schools every year, Aronowitz estimated.
Jeff Hermann, Penn State's university publications' editor and director, said Penn State doesn't often experience problems with other schools copying the Nittany Lion logo.
"Most of the time, it's innocent," Hermann said. "I don't imagine [other schools] are out to infringe on trademarks."
Burleson said the high school has since been able to replace or prevent logos on stationary, athletic uniforms, signs and scoreboards.
"It's kind of hard in midstream changing the logo, but we were able to adjust," Burleson said.
The logo similar to Penn State's did make it on to the gymnasium floor, too, he said, and will be replaced when the floor is resurfaced in about five years.
The CLC is allowing the high school a phase-out period to limit financial impact, Aronowitz said.
"I think all of us understand the issues that major colleges like Penn State have in making sure no one else has their logo," Burleson said. "I can understand their desire to keep their trademark."