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Port: UND doesn't own the trademark for hugely popular 'NODAK' jerseys, but the hockey coach's daughter does

"There are significant questions of ethics and competency here, and UND owes us answers," Rob Port writes.

White University of North Dakota "NODAK" jerseys
White "NODAK" jerseys used by the University of North Dakota's men's hockey team.
Contributed / UND
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MINOT, N.D. — Last year, the University of North Dakota's men's hockey team unveiled a new alternate home jersey . It's somewhat retro, reminiscent of jerseys the team wore in the 1950s, only instead of the now-retired "Sioux" nickname written diagonally across the front, the jerseys say "NODAK," for North Dakota.

The new jerseys "were a hit among fans and instantly sold out," Brad Schlossman reported in September .

But there's a problem. Even though the school has been using the "NODAK" trademark, they don't own it, nor do they have a licensing agreement for it. It's not listed as one of the trademarks on the licensing page of the UND website , and when I contacted UND spokesman David Dodds about the matter, he acknowledged that the school is working on the problem.

But here's where things get interesting. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where trademarks are registered so they can be enforced, the owner of "NODAK" is a Minnesota entity named NODAK LLC . The registered agent of that entity is Brianna Berry.

Daughter to Brad Berry.

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Brad Berry

The coach of the University of North Dakota's men's hockey team and, per Schlossman's reporting , the decider as to which jerseys the team uses on game day.

“The University is aware of the situation and is in the process of resolving the trademark issue," Dodds told me. "We hope to have everything finalized soon.”

The trademark registration for use of "NODAK" on apparel happened in September 2020. The school unveiled the first "NODAK" jerseys, which were white, in November 2021. A black version debuted earlier this year when the team played in Las Vegas.

The address given for the trademark registration comes back to a residential home in Minnetonka, Minnesota, which, per Hennepin County property records, is registered to Daniel Kristo — the same name as a former standout player for the UND hockey team from 2009-10 to 2012-13. Kristo is currently playing for a professional team in the United Kingdom.

NODAK LLC, a business entity registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office in September 2020, is listed as the official trademark owner. Documents from that office list the business at the same Minnetonka address as the trademark registration. The registered agent for the business is Brianna Berry.

A call to the phone number listed on the trademark registration went to a voicemail message for "Brianna." I left a message, but have received no response to multiple calls.

Berry doesn't appear to have a professional history in the apparel industry. According to her LinkedIn profile , she recently took a job as an account executive with a health industry IT company in the greater Minneapolis area, and before that worked as a sales manager for a medical products company.

Emails to the addresses listed in the trademark registration didn't receive an immediate response. One of the emails refers to a BMB Enterprises, a business entity registered with the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office in 2017. It was involuntarily listed as inactive in March 2020. The registered agent for the entity was attorney Tarek Howard of Grand Forks, who played for the UND hockey team from 1983-84 to 1986-87.

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I asked Dodds for information about the negotiations for the NODAK trademark and Brad Berry's involvement, but details weren't forthcoming at the time of publication. "We’ll be able address [sic] more specifics on the matter once it’s resolved," he told me.

UND did apply for ownership of a "NODAKS" trademark — note the plural — back in 2015, around the time the school was debating which name to use after the controversial "Fighting Sioux" nickname was retired, but abandoned the application per trademark office records.

Berry's current coaching contract pays him just over $450,000 this year, plus bonuses and other benefits such as a vehicle, but also includes some restrictions on revenue he can earn from outside the school.

For instance, the contract states that while Berry may, under the university's discretion, enter into licensing agreements, he cannot "require the performance or use of products" by UND. The contract also requires "prior written approval" before Berry can receive remuneration from outside ventures, including licensing deals.

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Also, North Dakota University System policy, specifically policy 308.4 , requires employees to "remain free from the influence of, or appearance of, any conflicting interest when acting on behalf of the SBHE, NDUS or any institution," with a conflict defined as "any known interests and activities of the individual as well that of the individual’s spouse, significant other, or immediate family member."

It may seem odd to think of it this way, but Coach Berry is a public servant. He's employed by a public institution. His salary is paid by the taxpayers. He has a responsibility to behave ethically and not take advantage of his position.

Is that what happened in this instance?

Based on the information we have available to us now, Brad Berry isn't the owner of the "NODAK" trademark. But a close family member is, and the coach's very popular hockey team has been using that trademark in a way that significantly enhances its value at a time when UND, given their established use of the trademark, is obliged to either license or purchase it.

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That seems like a problem in the context of both Berry's contract and NDUS policy.

It's also a problem, from the perspective of the state of North Dakota, that UND began using a trademark and selling significant amounts of merchandise emblazoned with that trademark without first settling the question of ownership or licensing.

There are significant questions of ethics and competency here. UND owes us answers, not the least of which is how much the school will have to pay the coach's daughter for a trademark they've already been using at the coach's discretion.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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