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Sigma Phi Society, Inc. prevails in trademark suit against Michigan chapter

Updated: Apr 19

[April 2024] - Nearly a decade ago, the Michigan Chapter of Sigma Phi began secretly allowing non-male members to join its chapter in violation of Sigma Phi Society’s national Restated Constitution and Bylaws. The Society’s national governing board, the Standing and Advisory Committee, attempted to resolve the situation with the Michigan Chapter’s leadership but the Michigan Chapter continued initiating non-male members while using the Society’s trademarks ("Sigma Phi" and “Σ Φ”). 


To protect the Society’s trademarks, Sigma Phi Society, Inc. sued the Michigan Chapter in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Sigma Phi sought a court order permanently prohibiting the Michigan Chapter from using the Society’s trademarks.

The Court initially entered a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, against the Michigan Chapter.


After two years of litigation, both Sigma Phi Society, Inc. and the Michigan Chapter filed motions for summary judgment.


While waiting for a final ruling from the court, the General Convention of the Society decided, at the October 2022 convention in Charlottesville, VA, to revoke the Michigan Chapter’s undergraduate active chapter charter for persistent failure to comply with the Society’s Restated Constitution and Bylaws.


On March 31, 2024, the Court issued a 24-page opinion in which it rejected the Michigan Chapter’s arguments and instead ruled in favor of the Society, concluding that: 1) the Michigan Chapter had engaged in trademark infringement and unfair competition; and 2) Sigma Phi Society, Inc. is entitled to a permanent injunction prohibiting the Michigan Chapter from using the trademarks.


The Court cited multiple decisions in other fraternity and non-profit cases—including the Jaycees and Kappa Sigma Fraternity—to find that the Michigan Chapter’s continued use of Sigma Phi’s  trademarks would in fact likely cause confusion, concluding that the Michigan Chapter’s use of the trademarks “would cause any reasonable person to associate” the Michigan Chapter with Sigma Phi Society.


Finally, the Court rejected the Michigan Chapter’s arguments regarding unconscionability. The Court noted that the Michigan Chapter did “not cite a single applicable case showing” that Sigma Phi Society “has violated the law, nor have they identified the law” that the Society allegedly violated. The Court also pointed out that the Michigan Chapter failed to “cite any cases where a court has held that a fraternity (or sorority) violates the Equal Protection Clause or any other provision of the United States Constitution for having single sex membership requirements.”


The Court’s March 31st ruling brings to a close a painful and expensive chapter in the Society’s 197-year history stemming from the duplicitous and unrepentant actions of the undergraduates and a supportive subset of Michigan Chapter alumni.

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