February 27, 2014

Professor reaches agreement with LeBron James foundation over look-alike bracelets

Students alerted Catawba College prof Pamela Thompson to James’s wrist bands that have the same words as the ones she makes

Catawba College professor Pamela Thompson started a business in 2010 that produces promise bracelets that reveal a hidden, inspirational message when stretched.

So she naturally grew curious when a student two years later blurted out in class that NBA superstar LeBron James was wearing a band resembling hers. Several other students had also seen James wearing a band with the words “I promise” on it, she said.

The result was a real-life lesson for her students at the school in Salisbury where Thompson is interim dean of the Ralph W. Ketner School of Business.

Thompson said she ended up reaching a private, “amicable agreement” with the LeBron James Family Foundation and LBJ Trademarks LLC, terms of which neither Thompson nor Morris Turek, her Missouri-based trademark lawyer, said they can disclose.

Thompson, a business and information systems professor, said she launched I Promise Project LLC with the iProm!se bracelet to provide “valuable, real world experiences” to share with her students.

She calls the I Promise Project a “business with a conscience” because it donates to numerous charities with each bracelet sold. iProm!se and Walgreens raised $300 for the Levine Cancer Institute, for instance.

The LeBron James Family Foundation sells “I PROMISE” bands for $5, plus $2.95 shipping and handling.

Proceeds benefit the foundation and its initiatives, according to the foundation’s website.

After she sent what she called a polite but unanswered email to the attorney listed on the I PROMISE trademark application filed by LBJ Trademarks, Thompson decided she needed a lawyer.

Thompson said she had two additional “heavy-hitting” advisers in her corner: Ralph Ketner, the 93-year-old founder of Food Lion, and Robert Croak, founder of SillyBandz.

The confidential agreement between I Promise Project and LBJ Trademarks took months of negotiations, she said.

Thompson’s iProm!se bracelets stretch to reveal a secret message, such as “never give up,” and the process is patented, she said.

In an interview this week, she said she also has common law rights to the mark, “iProm!se.”

James’ foundation in Akron, Ohio, and its trademark lawyer, Philip Zender of San Francisco, didn’t respond to phone and email requests for comment from the Observer this week.

Buyers from the iProm!se Facebook page range in age from 13 to 28, Thompson said. Bracelets include a “contract” the buyer can fill out vowing to keep the promise each makes.

To support American manufacturing, Thompson said, she also provides a Made in USA webbed style. The bracelets are being test-marketed in the Walgreens at Trade and Tryon in uptown and in other Charlotte-area Walgreens.

They retail two for $5, which stays true to the advice Ketner gave her about the importance of keeping the retail price of goods low, she said.

She quickly sold out her supply of 1,000 U.S.-made “iProm!se to Vote” bracelets as a vendor at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, she said.

Her regular iProm!se bracelets are designed domestically and made in China.

“I never imagined my bracelets would bring such powerful learning experiences to the classroom,” Thompson, 59, said of her experiences to date.

But the lessons are just beginning, she said, as she plans to take iProm!se to a national market “and continue to make a difference in the classroom and beyond.”

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