Times Must Be Tough: Harvard Becoming A Trademark Troll

from the ask-not-what-you-can-do-for-hah-vahd dept

Vanity Fair recently had a long, but absolutely fascinating article on how Harvard gambled away a big part of its endowment. Even worse, folks at Harvard seemed to think that the annual increases to the endowment were a sure thing, and spent like they were always going to see massive returns. The university is now feeling a pretty massive pinch because of this, and trying all sorts of things to cut costs and bring in more revenue. Apparently, that includes trademark trolling. ChurchHatesTucker points us to the news that Harvard is looking to trademark a bunch of common or well-known phrases, including “Ask what you can do,” (based on President Kennedy’s famous speech) and “Lessons learned.” Not surprisingly, this is raising some free speech questions, concerning the university’s right to try to claim some form of “ownership” over these common phrases. The university claims it’s just for defensive purposes:

“Since we’re spending so much time and money to promote this phrase, we just want to make sure someone doesn’t say we can’t use it.”

Of course, that basically highlights the ridiculousness of the way copyright, patents and trademarks are viewed these days: as something you need to “stockpile” so someone else doesn’t get them. Some of the trademark applications are on phrases that Harvard isn’t even using:

“You need to reserve something in case you intend to use it,” Calixto said. “We’re strategically protecting it for use at some point down the line.”

And I thought you could only get trademarks on actual use in commerce.

In the meantime, when I started reading the articles linked above, and thought that it would make for a good post, I totally planned to end it by pointing out that people should start getting around these trademarks by referring to the university as “Hah-vahd.” Except… the university has an application pending for “The Hahvahd Tour.” Oh well…

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Companies: harvard

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Comments on “Times Must Be Tough: Harvard Becoming A Trademark Troll”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“looking to trademark a bunch of common or well-known phrases”

Notice the IMPORTANT word, “looking”. It’s like me saying “I am looking to sleep with Angelina Jolie”. It doesn’t for a moment suggest I will succeed, now does it?

The story is a story when they actually get trademarks, and those trademarks are general enough to stop use by anyone (other than perhaps other universities)

Ryan says:

Re: Re:

You are looking to sleep with Angelina Jolie, meaning you are actively attempting to do so? Perhaps you’re sending her letters with naked pictures of yourself, or maybe jetting over to jump out of the bushes and flash her? Because Harvard is acting on this and has applied for a trademark. Not to mention that nobody cares what some internet pervert is thinking about doing, but when the most prominent university in America is actively attempting to be allocated the power to stifle free speech, it is a pretty noteworthy issue whether they succeed or not.

What’s especially notable is that they have a not insignificant chance of succeeding if other cases tell us anything, and the fact that they are so motivated to get these trademarks out of fear of somebody else attaining them tells you all you need to know about IP’s lamentable state.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, here’s the thing. Using the internet I can find all her addresses, and it’s easy to know when Brad is out of town. I had a shower this week, and I shaved too! I am all about looking to sleep with her.

Now, I show up at her door, ring the bell, and the security guard says “She isn’t going to sleep with you, go away”.

That’s pretty much what Harvard is likely to get for most of these.

JJ says:

Anonymous: Indeed, “looking to trademark” is certainly very different from actually having the trademark. However, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an important story nonetheless.

It’s important because this is Harvard we’re talking about, not, say, Monster Cable. Harvard’s law school has lately been taking a pretty sane point of view on IP (or at least copyright) law. For the school to express an opinion that these trademarks are actually reasonable is moderately disturbing. (Imagine if you heard that Richard Stallman was “looking to release proprietary software” and you’ll get the idea 🙂

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