U.S. Government Gets PTO Trademark for GI Bill
For the first time since the U.S. government created it 68 years ago in the wake of World War II, the GI Bill is a registered trademark [PDF].
Since 1944, the GI Bill (which was 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 popular government program did just fine without a trademark. But repeated complaints about fraudulent marketing and recruiting practices aimed at military families eligible for federal education loans under the GI Bill prompted the government to seek a trademark for the GI Bill from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Some intellectual property lawyers have argued that trademarking a government program as well established as the GI Bill 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 isnt selling anything.
Nevertheless, President Barack Obama signed an executive order in April directing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Education to take measures to stop deceptive and misleading promotional efforts that target beneficiaries of the GI Bill. The president specifically requested that the VA register the term GI Bill as a trademark so those beneficiariesmembers of the military, veterans, and eligible family members and survivorswould be directed only to legitimate GI Bill resources.
Many for-profit colleges and universities market heavily to military families because they can easily get federal loan money through the GI Bill. 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 GI Bill 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 nations Service members, Veterans, and their families, Allison Hickey, the VA undersecretary for benefits, said in a statement announcing the trademark. Since August 2009, the VA has paid more than $23.8 billion in GI Bill benefits to more than 866,000 veterans, service members, and their families.
It is still unclear how the government will enforce the new trademark. Owners of a trademark must pursue those who use their material improperly. If they dont, the registration can be cancelled on the grounds of non-use. Complications could also arise because the law says if there is no other way to reasonably refer to the trademarked term, the term can still be used by anyone. The VA has not yet clarified how or under what circumstances a school, whether it is a for-profit or not-for-profit entity, can indicate it accepts benefits provided under the GI Bill.
We want to ensure the right balance with these new guidelines so that our stakeholders can still promote the GI Bill and we can prohibit others from using it fraudulently, deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity Curtis Coy said.
At the same time it announced the GI Bill trademark, the VA said it had also obtained the rights to the website GIBill.com. That site, which mimicked the official GI Bill website (gibill.va.gov), had prompted so many complaints from veterans that the online marketing company that managed itQuinStreet Inc.was placed under investigation by attorneys general from 20 states, who alleged it was targeting military veterans with deceptive recruiting practices for its for-profit school clients.
In June, the company agreed to turn over GIBill.com to the VA and pay $2.5 million to the states involved in the case. A web search for GIBill.com now redirects the viewer to the VAs official site. Before it does, however, it displays the following message: As the result of a legal settlement, the award of the GIBill.com domain name to VA is a victory for all Veterans and the GI Bill. VA is committed to protecting the educational opportunities Veterans have earned through their service.