Campus & Community

It’s all in the name

7 min read

Protecting Harvard against unsanctioned use of its name is an ongoing battle

Rick Calixto and the Office of the General Counsel keep a careful eye on where Harvard’s name appears. (Staff photo by Jane Reed)

In an age when marketing is everything, protecting the “brand” is crucial. Here at Harvard, increased time and attention is being invested in the close monitoring of the University’s name and its use, both by those within the Harvard community and by those outside.

“Harvard’s name and reputation are among the University’s most precious assets,” said Provost Harvey V. Fineberg. “Harvard University is one of the most widely known and respected trademarks in the world. It is incumbent on all of us to preserve these assets for those who come after us.”

“Our efforts to protect Harvard’s name have two distinct components, one aimed at use by outside parties and one focused on use by Harvard ‘insiders,’” added Assistant Provost Sarah Wald. “These have different emphases, but they are closely related.”

It is the unlicensed products and the unsanctioned use of the Harvard name by people outside the University that capture the attention of Rick Calixto, Harvard’s Trademark Program administrator. His cramped seventh-floor Holyoke Center office is filled with dozens of manila file folders documenting companies and individuals from Cambridge to Cambodia utilizing the Harvard name – most often without the University’s permission.

“We’re responsible for monitoring all trademark registrations and licensing for the University, but the primary function of this office is dealing with all unauthorized uses of the Harvard name worldwide,” he says. “The trademark office is ground zero for dealing with the unauthorized stuff. … This is where everything flows in.”

As a result of Harvard’s name recognition value and prestige, entrepreneurs all over the world have attempted to use the name to help market their products – everything from private schools in Japan to cigarettes in India. That use can “imply an endorsement,” according to Diane Lopez, University attorney with the Office of General Counsel (OGC). “You have to be very careful,” she says.

University officials put special effort into monitoring unauthorized use of the Harvard name in educational services. “There was a Harvard College Park in Canada that we put a stop to,” Calixto explains. “There was a Harvard Institute of Technology in Peru that we put a stop to. There was a Harvard English Academy in Korea and we put a stop to them. There are a lot of those.”

In recent years, Calixto’s office has adopted a proactive approach by attempting to trademark the Harvard name in educational services in the United States and abroad and by licensing those insignia products it feels are most appropriate.

“We have probably the most conservative licensing program in the country,” he says. “We don’t do affinity cards or credit cards. We don’t do food. We don’t do a lot of things a lot of other universities will do because the primary objective of the Trademark Program is not to exploit the name for financial gain, but at the same time we do license [certain lines of items] because there is a desire out there to own Harvard insignia products.”

Because name issues involve, and come first to the attention of, several different offices – the Provost’s office, the Trademark Office, the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), and the Deans offices at the Faculties – it is important that these offices work closely together. A committee, formed by representatives of OGC, the Trademark Office and the Provost’s Office, meets regularly and works with individual schools to review major trademark and licensing issues.

Sometimes determining the best course of action to deal with trademark and licensing violations isn’t so easy – depending on how the name is used and how close it comes to the University’s core mission of education and research. “The decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, depending on how many resources it will take and how close it is to the mission,” Calixto says.

“We will probably not have as our highest priority going after someone selling ‘Harvard Refrigerators’ unless that use of that name or its registration as a trademark will have an impact on our trademark rights in the particular country where the refrigerators are being sold. But we will more than likely go after something [that plays upon] Harvard University, Harvard College, or Harvard Business School (HBS), Harvard and any health care service, or Harvard Medical School (HMS),” he says.

While trademark law provides the framework for dealing with those outside Harvard University, the University’s “Policy on the Use of Harvard Names and Insignia,” adopted in 1998 (available online at, is the focal point for use of name issues by those affiliated with Harvard. That policy changes the “default assumption” that anyone connected with Harvard can label his or her activity, for example, “The Harvard Study on Elephant Migration.” The policy requires advance permission of the Provost before labeling any activity “Harvard” or “Harvard University,” and advance permission of the dean before using the name of any school (such as Harvard Law School or Harvard Divinity School).

The Provost’s office fields dozens of requests per month related to the internal name use policy. In addition to the general policy, specific guidelines have been established covering the use of “Harvard” in e-mail and Web site addresses, and dealing with requests for endorsements by vendors doing business with the University.

“The intent of the internal name policy is to ensure that when an activity is labeled ‘Harvard,’ that label accurately reflects the broad, institutional nature of the activity,” says Wald. “In most cases where that label is not appropriate we can come up with an alternative which is more accurate and still conveys affiliation. For example, instead of calling a project ‘The Harvard Study on Voter Reform,’ it might be called ‘The Voter Reform Study at Harvard Law School.’”

Individual schools also play a major role in managing the use of the Harvard name. “Often the proposed use of the Harvard or Harvard Medical School name is an appropriate one … but in the past, members of the Harvard community made that decision themselves,” says Margaret Dale, associate dean for Faculty Affairs at HMS. “Now we’ve made people aware that the use of the name is an important issue and that there is a review process, so they are appropriately calling and asking questions first.”

In the Internet area, the Provost’s Office and the Trademark Office work very closely since, “with branding on the Internet so important, ‘Harvard’ is a hot commodity,” according to Elizabeth Hess, senior administrative specialist for Academic Computing in the Provost’s Office. “The University as a whole is seeing an increase of questionable use of the name both internally and externally.” A recent lawsuit illustrates the value put on the “Harvard” name in the electronic context. In that case, a Texas-based company that used the controversial URL “” to market its on-line learning programs. After Harvard filed suit against the company, it changed its name and agreed to refrain from using any references to Harvard.

“We thought that some people could mistakenly think that was the Harvard educational experience without having to come to Cambridge,” Lopez says. “We felt it was very important for people seeking to have this type of educational experience to understand who they are dealing with when they are getting an online course.”

Other successful litigation has included one of the first cases using the Federal Anti-Cybersquatting law against WebPro, a company that tried to sell domain names with “Harvard” in them, and a case against University Sports Publications for publishing a sports magazine called USP’s Harvard Sports Annual which had no connection to Harvard University and was produced without Harvard’s permission.

Certainly not every attempt to restrict unauthorized use of the Harvard name by outside parties is a successful one. “We don’t win every time, but we have a pretty good track record,” Calixto noted. Given the accelerating pace of business development in a robust economy, the challenges are constant for those charged with safeguarding the Harvard name.

“There are a lot of us working closely on name issues,” says Wald. Considering the new products and new domain names being created every day, Calixto noted, “at any given moment we’re sitting here and reprioritizing our efforts.”