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.

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Companies: mutual mobile, university of texas

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Comments on “University Of Texas Claims Trademark Over 'Texas'; Wants Useful iPhone App Blocked”

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65 Comments
Vidiot (profile) says:

Re: Re: There's a "Everything's bigger in Texas" Joke in here somewhere.

Oooh! Oooh! Good idea… I’ll get busy on the New Jersey trademarking, not that anyone necessarily wants to infringe. Actually, fair chance that David Chase locked that up when he did “Sopranos”. And for those of you who don’t know, ya gotta use the “New”… if you’re callin’ it “Jersey”, you’re from outta state.

Strofcon says:

Trademarking an entire state?

Exactly how can they legitimately claim to hold the trademark for the name of an entire state? How can they claim to hold the trademark to the name of ANY place?

If it’s legal to do so, then I need to start filing a TON of trademark requests. I’ll have more money than God in a week.

I’m surprised Mike didn’t dig into this particular bit of idiocy rather than just the lack of business sense shown by UT.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Trademarking an entire state?

> Exactly how can they legitimately claim to hold the trademark
> for the name of an entire state? How can they claim to hold the
> trademark to the name of ANY place?

It gets worse than that. When I was going to school there, they shut down some kids selling t-shirts with the capital letter “T” on the front to people as they headed for the stadium on game days. The university claimed to have a trademark on the letter “T”.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: I already trademarked "God"

Exactly how can they legitimately claim to hold the trademark for the name of an entire state? How can they claim to hold the trademark to the name of ANY place?

If it’s legal to do so, then I need to start filing a TON of trademark requests. I’ll have more money than God in a week.

I already trademarked “God”. Please rephrase your post.

hahah american law is retarded says:

GOOD

let americans go right retard over copyright
and in like i said 50 years you will be the third world
YES
so deny there copyright abroad and let them continue to ramp it up at home.

THIS IS further proof how stupid it is and this is the same politicians that take the hollywood bribe money

TEXAS TEXAS TEXAS TEXAS TEXAS TEXAS TEXAS TEXAS TEXAS
see how much money i owe
ZERO

Cynyr (profile) says:

Students not the priority

Mike,
1) You seem to be under the dilusion that the university is there to help out the students. Anything it can not do that would cause students to stay long or spend more is a good thing to them(makes them more money).
2) As far as some alumni that no one had heard of before trying to make an iPhone app that would make things easier for students, see point 1, all things related to the university need to go though them. When I say all I mean ALL.

Now if i recall the University of Texas is a major football(handegg) school. Thats where the money is. So the real issue is that this app doesn’t promote the football team(by paying to do so), and could make students on time to classes, and able to find out their professors contact info for assistance outside of class. Yep I’m cynical, but i graduated 2 years ago from a much much smaller university who was doing things like renaming programs every 3 years or so. Causing everyone to then need to appeal that IS104 was the same as IT104, and those that didn’t or didn’t try hard enough got to pay out extra.

So see this for what it is, a pure money grab from the university. I’m willing to bet that if they offered 90% of the earning from the app to UT this would have been a non issue.

kellythedog (profile) says:

the colour of iTexas

The inclusion of “Texas” in iTexas violates University trademark rights, which guarantee UT ownership of the brand “Texas” when used in reference to the University.
Craig Westemeier, UT assistant athletics director for trademarks and licensing, said that the name could cause confusion among consumers who think the University produced the iTexas application.

I find that very hard to believe, why couldn’t it mean a Texas travel app, or Texas pron hub…

And it actually gets worse apparently they trademarked some buildings and the colour Burnt Orange.

mjb5406 (profile) says:

Are All 50?

If some ninny in the USPTO allowed an even bigger ninny at UT to trademark the name “Texas” they should both be hung, just like the criminals in the Wild West were. If the trademark was granted only in 1981 (or later), what about the hundreds of years that the word “Texas” was used? Will UT now demand “reparations” for the damages it has endured because of this? Will they now go after each and every use of the word Texas (OMG… I owe a royalty) everywhere it’s used? Or are they basically just pissed because they didn’t come up with the idea for the app first so they could charge for it instead of someone giving it away for free?

Anonymous Coward says:

FAQ: How mainland America collects royalties from China

Here’s a radical idea: why don’t we sell Texas to China to pay down some of our debt? I don’t think they would mind.

Granted, the only thing I think I’d miss is Plano TX’s Frito Lay, and this god-awful jalapeno beer.

It’s real bad beer that has resulted in two keyboards being replaced, along with the accidental destruction of a Windows Vista notebook, but I think I’ll find a way to cope.

DUH says:

Well Duh,

The App is quite obviously using the “Texas” name to better market its app. If it were called say “directory of joe blow”, it would not be as popular as “itexas” the only thing they need to do is to change the name to something original. The “namer” of the app is obviously infringing on the Texas name. It would be like me making a app called iNike” and having it be a list of all the different brands of Nike shoes, and selling this app to make myself rich. Take it down and come up with some originality and stop leaching off big names….

toddski (profile) says:

Re: Well Duh,

You making an app called Nike should have completely different ramifications than you making an app called Texas – in terms of name. There could well be an argument in terms of the maps and other material though. That withstanding, it seems the makers originally changed the name out of respect to the university, which seems courteous enough.

The worst thing is that UT seemingly thinks it has something to gain out of this action. If they care about their students (and don’t want to cause any unrest) then they would let the app continue. Its only providing useful information right? What’s even better is that it provides information to people who are new around the facility.
Maybe if they worked with the app creators rather than against them then they could have come to some sort of agreement anyway?

Fools.

Seth says:

Before everyone gets their panties in a bunch

While that blurb is convenient for mockery let me point out a few things:

-there is already an official app that has most of this functionality AND IT WAS APPROVED.
-the iTexas app uses COPYRIGHTED data without permission
-the app INSECURELY and INAPPROPRIATELY caches your university credentials

It’s easy for everyone to see the little guy getting crushed but that isn’t the real issue at stake. It’s someones app not abiding by the policies set for interaction with University data. FERPA is no laughing matter.

Eric says:

Re: Before everyone gets their panties in a bunch

I thought this was a oxymoron
“-the iTexas app uses ‘COPYRIGHTED data’ without permission”

I didn’t think you could copyright data, or information. Information is information.

If they are against the app for security reasons then that is how they should represent their case. To say they have a copyright on the word “Texas” is quite insane. And anyway the App is named iTexas.. not Texas.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Before everyone gets their panties in a bunch

-there is already an official app that has most of this functionality AND IT WAS APPROVED.

So what’s wrong with competition. Or maybe that’s what this is all about: trying to eliminate competition.

-the iTexas app uses COPYRIGHTED data without permission

Seeing as how US law doesn’t allow data to be copyrighted, I don’t see how that could be true.

-the app INSECURELY and INAPPROPRIATELY caches your university credentials

That’s not a trademark issue.

iamtheky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Before everyone gets their panties in a bunch

If any of that was true, they would not have opted for the valid Copyright claim rather than retarded “We trademarked Texas” claim. And how dare they cache your username and password like every other user friendly aggregating application. And if there is access to certain data via certain credentials, and that data is only displayed when those credentials are provided, exactly which part is infringing. (please say the method, that sounds like fun)

Tyanna says:

Re: Before everyone gets their panties in a bunch

1. If an app was approved, what was the name of the app. A trademark violation would only apply if there was confusion between the name of the one provided by the university and the one provided by this company.

2. I find that doubtful. As has already been said by the posters above me, you can’t copyright data. And second, if the app was using copyrighted data, then UT would have filed a copyright violation and take down order, not a trademark violation.

3. Again, if that was the case then the university should have blocked the app from accessing it’s obviously open API. Or they should have went to the company and expressed it’s concerns…not file a trademark violation!

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