Last week, it sent a cease-and-desist letter to Louisville lawyer David Son, whose company is selling blue-and-white "40-0" T-shirts on his website, 40and0.com.
In most cases, vendors like Son would walk away, but it's more complicated than that. Son, not Kentucky, actually filed for the "40-0" trademark in February, claiming he sold his first item with the mark on it in October 2013.
That's the same time he filed for his company, 40-0 LLC, to be incorporated in the state of Kentucky before dissolving in August 2014. Records with the state show that on March 9 of this year, Son applied and was approved to have the company be reinstated and activated again.
"My client took all the steps he needed to take to establish ownership of 40-0," Son's lawyer, Brian McGraw, said. "There's no evidence that the University of Kentucky owns any rights to 40-0."
McGraw said he has had no conversations with the university, which has demanded that all 40-0 products be pulled from his client's site.
"We are well aware of third parties attempting to capitalize on the historic season of the University of Kentucky men's basketball team," said Jim Aronowitz, general counsel for Fermata Partners. "As the University's licensing agent, we are working to vigorously protect UK's trademark rights in the marketplace from those that use the institution's indicia without permission."
Aside from the cease-and-desist letter, Kentucky has not made any public claim to owning 40-0, but short of trademarking it, might stop Son from using it by either opposing his mark or hoping an examining attorney for the United States Patent and Trademark Office rules that Son's association with the blue and white suggests he is specifically trying to trademark a term that refers to Kentucky's season. For what it's worth, Son sells 40-0 in other colors, though some could argue that's just to protect him from overt association with the Wildcats. The site notes that it is "not affiliated with any university or professional organization."
McGraw said Son isn't trying to be a roadblock for the university.
"He would love to work this out with UK," McGraw said. "He's a diehard Kentucky fan."
McGraw said Son wouldn't have a problem if he saw 40-0 on Kentucky national championship items.
"Where we would draw the line is if the school started using '40-0' as a stand-alone brand instead of just the matter-of-fact record of the team," McGraw said.
All this won't be a problem if Kentucky (38-0) can't beat Wisconsin on Saturday night. If the Wildcats do, they must get by either Michigan State or Duke in the title game Monday to become the first 40-0 team, and the first undefeated team since the Indiana Hoosiers in 1976.
Does Kentucky own '40-0'?
Darren Rovell discusses whether both the University of Kentucky and a Louisville lawyer are allowed to sell blue and white merchandise displaying the numbers "40-0."