One school is an elite school found in 1957 in Boston’s Back Bay that costs $40,000 a year in tuition. The other is an academy in Springfield (90 miles away) for low income and minority students charging $1,200. Few people would confuse the two institutions but the elite Commonwealth School has sued the Commonwealth Academy for the use of the word “Commonwealth.” The school claims “great harm” from sharing the word and even refused an offer from the academy to add “Springfield” to the name.
We have been discussing a disturbing trend in copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). This included a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to symbol π and Citigroup’s claim to “ThankYou.”
Both of these schools are located in a state officially called the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Thus, this is like objecting to ‘Massachusetts” being in the title. Nevertheless, the school is suing for $2 million and will not accept a simply compromise of adding Springfield to the other name. It is accusing the Springfield school of engaging in a “knowingly false and malicious campaign” for simply using Commonwealth in its title. In my view, any problem that the school is experiencing is due to the decision to use a common noun (particularly in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) for its name. If you do not want confusion, you might want to adopt something more distinctive rather than bar the use of a common noun by any other school.
What do you think?