Posts tagged branding
Names, especially really, really old ones with very positive associations, have incredible value in the marketplace. Some companies are made or broken on their trademarks (Wikipedia), and some organizations spend years in court relying on the law to protect their brand. Universities, to a certain extent, are no exception and recognize the need at times to give a lesson on the ownership of names by curtailing how its brand is used in the public domain.
Karen Seidman at the Montreal Gazette reported last week that McGill University and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) concluded a Memorandum of Agreement regarding the use of the McGill name, which left many students unhappy, including the SSMU leadership, and has forced many student clubs to change their official names. Maggie Knight, SSMU President, admitted that SSMU, including its umbrella of clubs, had no legal rights to the McGill name, and now many clubs will have to adapt their materials to deal with the naming restrictions.
In response to discontent from students, McGill has emphasized that it is simply insisting that student organizations have names that specify they are students and not an arm of the university itself. Here are some examples:
- Elections Mc-Gill will now be Elections SSMU;
- TVMcGill will now be TVM: Student Television at McGill;
- McGill Walksafe will now be SSMU Walksafe;
- McGill Nightline will now be McGill Students Nightline;
- McGill First Aid Service will now be Student Emergency Response Team; and
- McGill Outdoors Club will now be McGill Students Outdoors Club.
It makes sense that the university would want to clarify what activities or services are being offered by students, who are vital to but independent of the administration of the university, and what activities or services are being offered by the university itself. The beef from students comes from the fact that they now have to scramble to adjust their promotional materials to different names imposed on them by the administration, and the fact that the process involved an imbalance in negotiating power.
Students also say that the administration wanting to reserve the sole word “McGill” for non-student affairs downgrades students as peripheral to the university’s mission and identity. Here is an editorial on this issue from the McGill Daily, which expresses concerns about a whitling away at what or who is included in the “McGill Community”. The editorial harps on the justification for the administration’s push being liability for damage caused by student groups (though that appears to be unconvincing from a legal perspective, so I doubt it was the main reason).
McGill has offered $25,000 to help cover the costs of any changes to banners, crests, T-shirts and so on featuring names that are no long permissible. Here is a list of new club name options for students approaching SSMU to create a new club.
SSMU seems to have gotten good legal advice: the university, not the student society, owns the name McGill whenever it is used in connection with the university. Canada’s Trade-marks Act (Department of Justice) includes special rules that favour universities, among other public bodies, when it comes to their names and emblems:
9. (1) No person shall adopt in connection with a business, as a trade-mark or otherwise, any mark consisting of, or so nearly resembling as to be likely to be mistaken for…
(n) any badge, crest, emblem or mark…
(ii) of any university…
in respect of which the Registrar has, at the request of Her Majesty or of the university or public authority, as the case may be, given public notice of its adoption and use…
In other words, if a university has asked the Registrar of Trade-marks to give notice of its use of a particular trademark (and the Registrar has done just that), then no one can adopt that trademark or any trademark that could be confused for the university’s trademark. Here is an example of one of McGill’s trademarks registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), and this is how CIPO defines a trademark:
A trade-mark is a word (or words), a design, or a combination of these, used to identify the goods or services of one person or organization and to distinguish these goods or services from those of others in the marketplace.
Have other universities gone the same route?
The University of British Columbia (UBC) does not seem to have the same restrictions in place; here is a list of student clubs from the Alma Mater Society (AMS) website, many of which appear to violate McGill’s rules. (The sample constitution provided to students to establish a club within the AMS envisions a name like “The ____ of UBC”.) The same seems to apply at the University of Toronto: here is a list of student clubs from the University of Toronto Students’ Union, many of which appear to violate McGill’s rules too.
If you are interested in learning more about how UBC approaches this issue, here is a list of UBC trademarks, which includes regular trademarks and those under Section 9(1)(n)(ii) of the Trade-marks Act (discussed above). Here is a pamphlet put out by UBC’s Office of the University Counsel about its trademarks, and here is a related university policy.
According to the Montreal Gazette article cited above, two other major universities in Montreal may have policies similar to McGill.