Massachusetts School Sued Over The Use of “Commonwealth” In Its Name

UnknownOne 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?

12 thoughts on “Massachusetts School Sued Over The Use of “Commonwealth” In Its Name”

  1. I have to agree with the elite school that Commonwealth Academy is just too close to Commonwealth School. It could easily be confused. However, the compromise of changing the name to Springfield Commonwealth Academy seems reasonable.

    1. SierraRose – do you think if I name my high school Lincoln Academy and their is a Lincoln Preparatory High 90 miles away, I should have to change the name of my school because people will be confused by the 90 mile difference?

  2. This reminds me of the innumerable “Olympic Pizza Shop” restaurants that have been forced out of business by You-Know-Who.

  3. Has anyone copyrighted the word ‘burger’? There are lots of burger joints out there.

    Then again, does the Commonwealth School have a right to distinguish itself and prevent confusion with Commonwealth Academy? I think it does and that it’s a jury question as to whether there would be confusion enough to affect student enrollment or whatever other harm may arise.

  4. JT’s pointing out these travesties is much appreciated. They don’t get the press they deserve.

  5. The attorneys representing the academy need to be reported to their state bar’s ethics branch when all is said and done.

  6. Motion To Dismiss for failure to state a claim. No person or entity can claim title to a common name. Commonwealth is so common that no one can gain wealth from trying to claim title to it. The Counter Claim should have one claim which requires the court to call the elite school the Shit Stinks Academy. And if the Foo Shits, Wear It should be emblazened on their flags and emblems.

  7. Probably the most rapid way to protect Commonwealth Academy will be to encourage Commonwealth School to drop its lawsuit through public outrage–namely a David vs. Goliath struggle or elitists vs. the poor.

  8. I am not sure how they can win this in the Commonwealth of Mass.

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