ALM Properties, Inc.
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GI Bill Joins GI Joe
The GI Bill is now a registered trademark.
Since 1944 the bill (originally passed into law as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944) has funded higher education for military service members returning to civilian life. And for most of its existence the program did just fine without a trademark. But repeated complaints about fraudulent marketing and recruiting practices aimed at military families eligible for loans under the bill prompted the government to seek out the Patent and Trademark Office. In December the effort finally succeeded.
Some intellectual property lawyers have argued that trademarking a well-established government program is an inappropriate use of the law. Trademarks are generally used to identify and distinguish goods and services, they say, and are for the exclusive commercial use of their owners. The GI Bill is technically a law, and it isn't selling anything.
Nevertheless, President Barack Obama signed an executive order in April directing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Education to take measures to "stop deceptive and misleading" promotional efforts that target beneficiaries of the GI Bill. He specifically requested that the VA register the term "GI Bill" so that those beneficiaries would be directed only to legitimate resources.
Many for-profit colleges and universities market heavily to military families with easy access to GI Bill loans. Some of these schools had been using websites with a military theme that were deemed deceptive because they gave the appearance of being government-run or connected to the bill's benefit system, the government said. Government investigations have found that some for-profit colleges and universities recruit veterans without telling them the truth about costs, loans, and dropout rates.
"Trademarking 'GI Bill' is a great step forward in continuing our mission to better serve this nation's service members, veterans, and their families," Allison Hickey, the VA undersecretary for benefits, said in a statement. But it's unclear how the government will enforce the new mark. Owners of a trademark must pursue those who use their material improperly. If they don't, the registration can be canceled on the grounds of "nonuse."