Campus & Community

Lawsuit Settlements Protect Harvard’s Trademark, Copyright

4 min read

A collector of Web domain names and operators of a health-related World Wide Web page both settled lawsuits filed against them by Harvard University recently, admitting they infringed on Harvard’s trademarks and copyrights and agreeing not to do it again.

The cases were settled after defendants in the two cases agreed to be bound by court orders, known as consent judgements.

The lawsuits are part of Harvard’s renewed efforts at protecting its intellectual property, according to Deputy General Counsel Robert B. Donin.

“These two consent judgements illustrate that Harvard will enforce vigorously its intellectual property rights of all kinds,” Donin said.

The court victories come as the University is pressing both state officials and representatives of the Harvard Pilgrim health maintenance organization to honor the University’s trademark on the Harvard name in its use by Harvard Pilgrim.

Though Harvard has come under fire for its vigorous efforts to protect its name, Donin said the actions work to protect the consumer as well as the University. If Harvard were to allow others free use of its name in the same sorts of activities the University itself conducts, consumers could be misled about whether a particular program is really sponsored by the University.

The first case, settled March 14, arose after Michael Rhys approached Harvard and offered the University “the first right of refusal” to acquire 68 World Wide Web domain names he had registered using the words “Harvard” and “Radcliffe.” Rhys was involved in the sale of domain names to the public through his business Web-Pro, and listed the names on his site

In the consent judgement, the court found that since the University already owns the Harvard and Radcliffe trademarks, Rhys’ actions constituted trademark infringement and ordered him to stop using or selling the names.

Donin said the case was pretty clear cut, partly because Rhys was not conducting any business using the names, but was offering to sell them to others

Rhys was forced to cancel his registration of the names, which included many permutations from the straightforward “harvard-doctor” and “harvard-lawyer” to the more complex “harvardmedicalgraduate” and “harvardmba2000.”

In addition to Donin, University attorney Frank Connors also represented Harvard in the domain name case.

The other case, settled Feb. 9, involved the unauthorized use of a copyrighted 1997 Harvard Health Letter article, “High Protein Diets: Where’s the Beef?”, on the Web site of American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA), a private corporation based in New Jersey.

The article’s original author found the piece on AFPA’s Web site while doing research for another article. She recognized the piece, though it appeared under a different headline and byline, and alerted the University.

“She called our attention to it because she felt it was blatant piracy,” Donin said.

In the consent judgement, the court found that the Web site’s version was nearly identical, saying the majority of it “reproduces verbatim, or closely paraphrases” the Harvard Health Letter article.

The Web site’s owners, Mark and Amy Occhipinti, agreed to pay Harvard $1,000 in damages, to print a statement admitting the infringement on their site for several months, and to refrain from similar activity in the future. The $1,000 will go to the Harvard Health Letter.

Donin said this kind of wholesale use of Harvard-copyrighted material is rare, and is the type of copyright violation that the University must take note of.

“This was really egregious. We don’t see too many cases like this,” Donin said. “We did this to spread the word that we take this seriously and will take action. Harvard has so much material out there that if we didn’t take action this could become a serious problem.”