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‘Gray areas’: Who can use the ‘Princeton’ name?

Colleen McCullough ’12 was contacted this March by University officials who told her that Princeton in the Middle East, the post-graduate fellowship program she had founded along with other University alumni, would have to remove the “Princeton in” construction from its name because it suggested that the independently established organization had an affiliation to the University and thus created confusion.

PriME is one of many outside organizations that have fallen into the gray area as to whether or not they should be allowed to use the word Princeton in their name. University General Counsel Peter McDonough said the University decides whether an organization can use the Princeton name on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the University evaluates an organization and finds its use of the Princeton name to be legitimate, while other times, as with PriME, it has chosen to step in to ensure that no confusion regarding an association with the University arises.

For example, the Princeton Club of New York is a private club founded in 1899 that offers social events, rooms for overnight stay and fitness facilities for its members. Although it is independent of the University, its membership is restricted to University alumni, faculty and students, as well as alumni of select universities such as Columbia University and Williams College.

“We are fine with there being an association in the public’s mind between Princeton Club of New York and the University, so we don’t think there is any likelihood of confusion because we are fine with that,” McDonough said.

According to PCNY Director of Catering/Human Resources Tracy Kaufman, the club hosts over 250 events with the University each year.

“We are an extension of the family. We are Princetonians in New York City. We host parents. We are down for parents’ weekend, alumni day, senior check out, reunion weekend. We are part of the make up of what Princetonians need when they come to Manhattan,” Kaufman said.

McDonough said the similarity between an outside organization’s services and those of the University is a key factor the University considers. For example, Princeton Adult School is a non-profit educational organization founded in 1931 that is located in Princeton. Executive director Anne Brener noted that the adult school has close ties with the University.

“Although we are not affiliated at all, our lectures series is not only usually given on campus at University facilities, but the other part of it is that most of our lectures are from the University,” Brener said.

McDonough noted that the University’s shared name with the town complicates the issue of determining whether organizations can use the Princeton name. He said that the University tries to be fair and reasonable when deciding whether or not to intervene.

“We are not like Yale. Yale is in New Haven. At Yale, if somebody proposed to start the Yale Adult School, they really could not argue that they are calling it that because of geography,” McDonough explained.

Brener recalled numerous cases when people have confused Princeton Adult School with Princeton University.

“People would call here, thinking they are calling some office of Princeton Admissions. I don’t know how they get to that from the name of Princeton Adult School,” Brener said.

McDonough said that the University must also determine if an organization is intentionally trying to suggest to its customers that there is a University affiliation.

“There is no suggestion,” McDonough said regarding the Princeton Adult School. “There isn’t a wrapping up the adult school name in orange and black, and there isn’t a lot of name dropping about the University that looks like it’s intended to confuse.”

Brener added that the real confusion comes when organizations bearing the Princeton name are located outside of the town of Princeton.

“When people outside of Princeton use the name so freely all the way out to Hightstown, which is, you know, ten miles up the road and all the way past Princeton’s borders, past our zip codes, that’s where it gets confusing, but not here in town,” Brener said.

However, the University had called into question the use of Princeton’s name in the case of the Princeton Review, an independent business focused on standardized test preparation that at one point had its biggest offices in Princeton, according to its founder John Katzman ’81.

“They dropped the opposition, but I agreed that we would not use the brand Princeton Review in ways that create confusion with the University. For instance, there will never be a Princeton Review University, or anything like it. And we don’t use fonts that are similar to University’s fonts,” Katzman said.

Katzman explained that he chose the name not because of the University but because Education Techonology Service — an educational services company that makes the SAT, among other tests — used to be commonly referred to by guidance counselors as “Princeton” due to its Princeton mailing address.

Princeton Architectural Press, founded by Kevin Lippert ’80 while he was an Architecture School graduate student, has dealt with confusion over its name since it moved its headquarters from Witherspoon Street to New York City.

Lippert said the name now causes some unintended confusion but that the company has no immediate plan to change the name.

“The name is now confusing because we are not in Princeton. We are not part of the University. We don’t want people to think that we are the architectural arm of the Princeton University Press, and we publish a lot more than just architecture these days,” Lippert said.

According to Lippert, the University’s adoption of the town’s name makes it easier for outside business to have Princeton in its name. However, Lippert pointed out that trademarking a place name brings with it many complications.

“You can trademark a place name,” Lippert said, “but how many millions of businesses have the word New York in them here in New York City? So would you then try and whatever, shut them down or tax them or collect some sort of fee for the use of the name New York?”

McDonough pointed out that there is no clear legal boundary that the University applies to determine if a likelihood of confusion exists.

“We are talking about an area of the law that doesn’t have real, solid lines. As lawyers we talk about black and white issues and gray issues: this is a gray issue because it is almost always going to be decided based on the unique particular facts of any situation,” he added.

Not all outside organizations carrying the Princeton name report cases of confusion, however.

The Historical Society of Princeton’s Executive Director Erin Dougherty said she does not think any confusion exists with the society. It was founded in 1938, and its founding president graduated from the University in 1899.

“I think our visitors come in knowing we are talking about the history of the town. We do sometimes discuss the University in our exhibitions, but we try to make it clear that we are a separate institution,” Dougherty said.

When the product being offered is very different than that of the University, there is also little confusion over the Princeton name. Princeton Power Systems was founded in Princeton but has since spread all over the country. According to co-founder Darren Hammell ’01, the name derives partly from his University affiliation and partly from the geographic area.

“We were based in Princeton when we started, so the location, and then we were all Princeton students in fact when we started the company, so that has something to do with it,” Hammell said.

Hammell said having the Princeton name has been a benefit because it gives potential customers background information about the company and its origins just by the name.

McDonough noted that the quality of the product that an outside organization provides is another factor.

“If we are really, really, really good at something, and they are really, really, really bad at something, we would have a stronger case with the court for arguing that they can hurt us by us permitting them to continue to [use the Princeton name],” he said.

Brener said that ultimately whether or not an organization uses the Princeton name is not the most important factor for its success.

“I do think they look for it and I do think they think it might be a very special program because it is called Princeton,” Brener said. “However, in the end it is the quality of our courses that gives us the reputation and makes us successful.”

Dougherty expressed similar sentiment and said she doesn’t see a problem if confusion arises.

“Having Princeton in our name is just an complete plus for our organization, so if people happen to associate us with other organizations in town who also has Princeton in their name, like the University, you know it’s fine because it really shows Princeton as a really strong place that has a lot of organizations that celebrate the town,” she said.

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