University Of Texas Claims Trademark Over 'Texas'; Wants Useful iPhone App Blocked
from the oh-come-on dept
Trademark law, when used properly, serves an important purpose in making sure that consumers are not made worse off by being tricked into buying lower quality products and services under the belief that they’re actually coming from someone else who is trusted. But in the age of the “ownership culture,” where too many people have tried to twist trademark law away from its true origins to make it appear to be a quasi-“property right,” you get too many cases of people using trademark law to actually make consumers worse off.
Take for example this story, sent in by iamtheky about how the University of Texas is trying to stop some former students from making an incredibly useful iPhone app for UT students, called iTexas, by claiming it infringes on their trademark on Texas.
The makers of the app, Mutual Mobile, have made a bunch of successful iPhone apps, but UT got upset last year when the company introduced the UT Directory, which put a much more useful interface on (you guessed it) the UT staff and student directories. After the University complained, the company felt that perhaps the use of the school’s colors made it look like an “official” app, so they agreed to fix that part. When the company launched iTexas, it made sure that it didn’t have the school’s color scheme or do anything to make it appear as the official app. But it did make the app a lot more useful:
A free download, the app retains the searchable directory but also lists menus from different cafeterias across campus, tallies students’ dining-card and Bevo Bucks balances, delivers class schedules, shows campus maps, and more.
This sounds like a great and rather useful app. Exactly the sort of thing that the University should be encouraging, not just because it would help some alumni succeed, but also because UT students would likely find the app quite useful. But, that’s not the way UT officials think, apparently:
On Feb. 1, the Mutual team learned that UT had raised another objection to its latest app, specifically to the use of the word “Texas” in the name. “As this name is confusingly similar to the Texas [trademark], UT objects to such use,” reads a notice sent to the Apple app store by attorney Wendy Larson. UT’s board of regents began trademarking university properties back in 1981. A list of protected trademarks appears on the university Office of Trade mark Licensing Web page; alongside more specific trademarks such as Bevo and Lady Longhorns is, simply, Texas.
Lesson learned: don’t try to make life better for UT students without first paying the University.