Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"GI Bill" Is Now A Registered Trademark Of The VA

According to a October 16, 2012 VA Press Release:
"President Obama signed Executive Order 13607 on April 26, 2012, directing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense, and the Department of Education to undertake a number of measures to “stop deceptive and misleading” promotional efforts that target the GI Bill educational benefits of Servicemembers, Veterans, and eligible family members and survivors. Trademarking “GI Bill” was part of that order to protect military families from being misled by schools that target their federal education benefits.
Today GI Bill is an officially registered trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office."
What's this about?
In the wake of improvements in the GI Bill, some sleezebags decided they could use the "GI Bill" name for financial advantage. A company named "QuinStreet" set up to send veterans to for-profit schools that, by no coincidence, were clients of QuinStreet.
A posse of state attorney generals sued, and in June a settlement awarded to the VA. That solves one problem, but suing one-by-one is inefficient.
In response, Obama proposed the trademarking of "GI Bill". This would not only allow more efficient resolution of such scams, it also puts marginal operators on notice; they should move on to another scam.
Some in the world of business and the law criticized the very idea of trademarking "GI Bill"; for example: "Obama Wants to Trademark the GI Bill. Good Luck With That" By Kristen Hinman, Business Week, April 27, 2012
However, these complaints are basically silly. First, they misunderstand the difference between a law and the NAME of a law. Trademarking a name does not affect the operation of the law; citizens can still read the law, write about the law, use the name of the law in political speech, and so forth ... just as I can write about Disney, Microsoft and Boeing even those names are protected intellectual property.
Second, while it is true that this sort of trademark is unusual, that's because the situation is unusual; it just isn't that common for private organizations to pretend to be government organizations for the purpose of extracting money from citizens. Personally I think a horsewhipping would be more appropriate (... cool down, I'm joking ... maybe ...) but sending lawyers after them might be just as bad. There are many absurd situations in which the law has not yet been tested because no-one's gotten around to doing something that stupid.
Finally, maybe someone will contest this trademark; maybe someone will peddle "GIBill Coffee" or something, and fight it all the way up to the Supreme Court. And maybe they'll win. Who knows? That would get Congress off the stump so it passes a law protecting the name.

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