Protecting Harvard: Words to Sue By?

"We want to be a part of protecting it for them," he said.

While Unofficial Tours uses the Harvard name for free, Harvard's trademark licensing business generally means big money for the university. In previous years, it has grossed $1 million per year.

But protecting those trademarks doesn't come cheap. The government charges at least $275 per trademark application, while lawyers' fees for each application can run about $2,000, said trademark lawyer Schwimmer, who does not represent Harvard. Sending a letter to a company warning of a possible trademark violation could cost another $1,000, while lawsuits costs tens of thousands.

Worth the Price?

Schwimmer, a Harvard graduate, questions whether it makes sense for his alma mater to be dishing out that much dough to protect some of its slogans.

"Should you bother? To me it's really a business cost-benefit analysis question," he said.

Schwimmer and Dreitler both said that if Harvard succeeds in its latest trademark applications, some might think twice before adopting "The world's thinking" and "Managing yourself" as their own slogans. But the law wouldn't necessarily bar other groups -- especially businesses that don't have any connection to educational services -- from using them.

"Trademark lawyers sometimes counsel people not to adopt these sort of trademarks," Schwimmer said, "because it's a can of worms."

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