Monday, August 02, 2004

"University of Georgia" trademark dispute, is there anything to it?

There's been chat recently concerning whether or not the University of Georgia (the Bulldogs) may lose their trademark in their name. There have been long running difficulties between UGA's board of regents and UGA's main fundraising group (the University of Georgia Foundation, UGF) that originally began over UGA president Michael Adams' decision not to renew the contract of popular athletic director and former head football coach Vince Dooley.

Apparently UGA officials neglected to renew the trademark to the name "University of Georgia" in 1997, and the trademark was applied for by the University of Georgia Foundation (UGF), who now claims rights to use of the name on all sports paraphernalia and educational services.

Recently, the UGA has attempted to completely sever ties with the UGF. Newspapers have reported that this trademark issue has created a snag in the attempt to drop UGF, now that the UGF may have rights to use the UGA trademark. Perhaps the negotiation between the parties just got a little more interesting and heated.

Some basic trademark law is that trademarks are obtained by use, not by registration, so there is basically no chance that UGA could be denied the right to use the name they have been using for over 200 years. Letting a registration lapse does not constitute abandonment of the trademark.

The U. of Miami law prof. Michael Froomkin, of and ICANN Watch fame, has commented on the topic (in an email that's been posted online?). He doesn't think there is much to the whole trademark controversy. He points out that state universities operate under the state's sovereign immunity and can infringe on intellectual property in general without worrying so much as a private enterprise about the consequences. Froomkin points out that the UGF's actions could result in a situation in which the UGA can't keep the UGF from using the UGA mark, therefore they would both get to use it.

Perhaps this trademark issue will actually push the battling groups back together. The fact is if the University of Georgia changed it's name the UGA mark would be worthless to everyone involved anyway, therefore neither party would have much to gain by pushing the issue, even if there is any meat to it, which there does not appear to be.

Articles here and here. Froomkin discussion here. More on the history of the University of GA here. Thanks to The Good Doctor for pointing this out.


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