Goodwill U: School Name Change & Trademark Law

by Alexandra J. Roberts, University of New Hampshire (Concord)

from Volume 3, Issue 2 (Spring 2013)

Download this Article in PDF format from The Jerome Hall Law Library’s Digital Repository.

Abstract: Despite the high stakes in school name changes, schools seem to be renamed just as often as are traditional goods. A new name might acknowledge a major benefactor, reflect a change in the school’s status or affiliation, seek to clarify existing misconceptions, or serve as a component of a comprehensive rebranding initiative. Yet when an existing institution abandons one name and adopts another, its actions beget a host of trademark issues, some of which cannot be adequately understood by analogy to traditional brand and product name changes. School name changes can confuse or deceive consumers and infringe competitor schools’ marks, affecting alumni of all of the schools involved. Adopting a new name often necessitates that a school abandon a prior name that has acquired extensive goodwill, to the detriment of past, current, and future students. New names, especially those that honor living donors, risk tarnishing schools’ trademarks by associating them with controversial figures. In addition, renaming may deeply harm alumni, who serve as not only their alma mater’s consumers, but as its products. This Essay identifies and explores some of the intellectual property issues that university renaming raises and the trademark ramifications for alumni, including infringement, dilution, and abandonment of goodwill.