We have received a cease and desist letter demanding that we change the name of our IP center from “Center for Law and Intellectual Property” because it infringes the rights of Fordham University’s “Center on Law and Information Policy.” The letter also demands that we not use the acronym CLIP whatsoever in reference to our Center.
Nearly two years ago, I received an email from the Director of Fordham’s Center for Law and Information Policy, stating that the name of our center infringed the rights of Fordham. I responded that our center, like many others at law schools across the nation*, uses “center” and “law” in its descriptive title, and then refers to the subject matter of the center—in our case, “intellectual property” (in their case, “information policy”). I assured him that we always use our school’s name in any materials referencing the center. The trademark professor in me wanted to write a long missive about both trademark law and policy. The human being in me wanted to make a goofy yet heartfelt reference and say, “Can’t we all just get along?” Instead, I closed by saying, essentially, that I think what they are doing is great, and I think what we are doing is great, and what law schools across the country are doing by creating enhanced learning opportunities for students in centers of research and dialogue and policy is great. I also extended an invitation for him to come visit sometime and see the kinds of things we do at Texas Wesleyan.
(I also told him that we do have a logo, which uses the acronym of the center with the words “Center for Law and Intellectual Property” and our Texas Wesleyan house mark, and I assured him that we always use the name of the school in every piece of material we send about the center, as we have a strong interest in identifying ourselves as a Texas Wesleyan initiative.)
I did not hear from him again. However, after our email exchange, Fordham revamped the webpage for its center and applied for federal registration of their acronym CLIP for a long list of goods and services (and using the phrase “intellectual property” four times). That registration issued at the end of October, and the President of Texas Wesleyan has now received a cease and desist letter stating that not only any use of the acronym CLIP but the very name of our center infringes the registered and common law rights of Fordham.
The trademark professor in me wants to write a treatise about trademark law and policy. The human in me wants to make a goofy yet heartfelt reference and say, “Really?!?”
In this current climate, when budgets are tight and the structure and content of legal education is something we are all debating passionately, when we are all working as hard as we can to provide innovative and dynamic educational opportunities for our students, I can’t help but wonder whether our collective time and resources could be better spent on other things. On the other hand, in a lemonade-from-lemons sense, my trademark practice students are getting to see the real-world dynamics of practice. The fact is: As a university, we are not about to spend our students’ tuition money in this climate defending ourselves in an out-of-state trademark lawsuit, even if we think we are right, even if we think we would win, even if I suspect the best answer on the exam would be “no likelihood of confusion.”
In the end, if we can’t call our center by its descriptive function, perhaps we will go the trademark route. I always tell my students that FLURM would be an excellent mark, because it is a coined and unattractive word. Perhaps we’ll change our name from the Center for Law and Intellectual Property to FLURM. Come to Texas Wesleyan School of Law, and be a part of THE CENTER OF FLURM! At least then, no one will be confused.
* center such as, eg, the Center for Intellectual Property Law (John Marshall Law School), the Intellectual Property Law Center (Drake Law School), the Center for Intellectual Property Law and Markets (University of San Diego), the Center for Intellectual Property (University of Maryland), the Intellectual Property Center (University of Akron), or the Center for Law and Intellectual Property (Thomas Jefferson School of Law), the Center for Intellectual Property Research (Indiana University Maurer School of Law), to name a few.