Working to protect Stanford's good name

Armed with the Administrative Guide, university offices ranging from Business Affairs to University Communications to the Office of the General Counsel are working to protect Stanford's trademarks.

What's in a name? 

When it's Stanford's name, the answer is a whole lot. The Stanford name has come to be associated with educational excellence, entrepreneurial spirit, innovative research, exceptional faculty and athletic achievement.

The name Stanford is a legal trademark, as is the Block S with tree and the university seal. Trademarks allow people to identify the source of goods or services, and Stanford's services relate to delivering education and doing research. When someone sees the name Stanford or the university seal in connection with a course or a research paper, the trademark creates an assumption about the source and the quality of the activity.

Armed with the Administrative Guide, offices ranging from Business Affairs to University Communications to the Office of the General Counsel work to protect the Stanford name and emblems.

Susan Weinstein, assistant vice president for business development, oversees trademark licensing for Stanford. She answers questions for faculty and staff about the complex dos and don'ts of using the Stanford name and emblems.

What does it mean that the Stanford name and its emblems are trademarks?

Because trademarks such as Stanford are valuable, they are legally protected. Only the owner of the trademark is allowed to use it, especially in connection with the services and products it offers, or if there might be confusion about the provider of the service or product.

For example, there might not be any confusion about whether the "Stanford Bookstore" located in Stanford, Ky., was operated by us. But if the shop were in Palo Alto, there might be a question. Any educational institution, no matter where it is located in the United States, may not use Stanford's name because we are well known for delivering education.

We also put our name and emblems on merchandise, such as T-shirts and mugs. There, too, we are careful to protect Stanford's image. You won't find Stanford on caskets, toilet seat covers or shoddy merchandise.

Why do we keep others from using our name?

If we didn't, we could risk losing our rights to exclusive use of these trademarks. The classic case is aspirin, which was once a trademark for the Bayer Company. Bayer allowed consumers to use aspirin to describe any pain relief medicine, so now it is in the common vernacular and no longer a trademark. Although it's not likely to happen, if we didn't enforce our trademark rights in the name Stanford, the Block S and the Stanford seal, we might no longer be able to keep others from using them, and schools named Stanford could start popping up.

Also, if we allow others to use the name Stanford in connection with other activities, even if they are unrelated to education, research or athletics, we run the risk of tarnishing the goodwill that Stanford has built in its name. Last year, for instance, our office responded to quite a few inquiries whether there was a connection between Stanford University and Stanford Financial Group, a company accused of financial fraud.

The Stanford trademark is powerful because of what it represents. All of our peer universities have trademark protection programs for the same reasons.

What does the university do when trademark infringement is discovered?

We investigate, and if it is indeed infringement, we turn the case over to the General Counsel's Office. Generally, their first step is to request that the company stop using the Stanford name. Usually, that's sufficient, but if not, we might even file a lawsuit. 

What does your office do?

Our primary responsibility is trademark licensing. Most licenses give a company permission to put the Stanford name or emblem on the gifts, clothing and other items you buy in stores. In exchange, we are paid a royalty. Royalty revenues are used for scholarships and to support the Department of Athletics.

Permission is also required when someone wants to use our name in other ways, such as in films, seminars, outside business enterprises and books. No one can use our name without Stanford's permission unless the use is permitted under Admin Guide 15.5 or the business owner also happens to be named Stanford.

Very few people have authority to grant permission to use Stanford's name. These include the provost for educational and research activities, University Communications for use in film and media, and the dean of the School of Medicine for medical activities. The vice president for business affairs and the general counsel also have authority.

One of the thorniest name-use issues for faculty and staff is when a vendor wants an endorsement for use in marketing materials. Is this permitted?

No. Stanford doesn't endorse outside entities.

Can you give an example?

This can come up in several ways. Sometimes a company wants to use a quote from a Stanford staff or faculty member on their website or in a press release. We don't allow staff and faculty to endorse outside products or services as a representative of the university. For example, let's assume that Stanford IT professional John Smith works on a system installation at Stanford. John may endorse the new system as an individual. But we wouldn't allow the system manufacturer to indicate that he is employed at Stanford. Quite often when a company is unable to use Stanford's name, it loses interest.

The system manufacturer may also want to develop a case study about the successful implementation to share with other schools. The Stanford employees who worked on the project might also like to support the company and be recognized for the university's success. It's understandable that both might want to publish the case study, but we need to say no. Instead, Stanford employees who worked on the project can serve as references, the company can include us on a list of clients and the company can describe the project factually without a quote or other participation from us.

Why don't we allow endorsement?

First and foremost because Stanford doesn't consider it appropriate for other entities to use Stanford's reputation to promote their business.

Also, Stanford works with many companies as vendors and research partners. We wouldn't want to inadvertently offend one partner by endorsing its competitor.

Finally, if we provide an endorsement for a company that does business with Stanford, it could raise conflict of interest questions, like whether we received compensation in exchange for our support. How would it look if we endorsed a product and it later became known that we had received a large discount?

Think of who does endorsements: Often it is movie stars who do it for financial gain and other people who want their name in the press. That's not the way we want to be known.

What rules are there for use of the Stanford name and emblem internally?

Essentially, we only allow schools, departments and officially recognized student and alumni groups to use Stanford trademarks. For example, if a group of alumni was not officially recognized by the Stanford Alumni Association, we would not permit them to use Stanford trademarks even if they were holding a Big Game party exclusively for other alumni.

Once someone is entitled to use Stanford's name and emblems, there are design guidelines that provide the artwork for our emblems, specify the exact shade of Cardinal red and outline other design requirements for Stanford's trademarks.

When Stanford's emblems are used correctly and consistently, they are better recognized and better able to communicate our messages. When I arrived at Stanford there were at least six different official versions of the Stanford seal and many variations of the block S emblems. Now there is one official seal and two block S emblems – one with and one without the tree – and they clearly represent the university whenever they are used.