–Ben Kwan, Attorney

Work brought me to Harrisburg, Pa. during the first part of this week.  Two colleagues and I finished with our business early Wednesday, so we took in the sights at the National Civil War Museum, which sits atop a marvelous hill overlooking the Susquehanna River Valley.  If you ever have occasion to be in Harrisburg, the museum is definitely worth a stop.  The presentation and curation of artifacts is top-notch, recounting compellingly the perilous divide that almost broke our Union.

A statute outside the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa.

The museum captured the Civil War’s history so well by maintaining the feeling of opposition throughout.  Opposing ideas, opposing personalities, opposing economics, etc.  So, while neither curious nor necessarily suspect, I find it at least interesting that the USPTO this week has granted a Notice of Allowance for a new mark protecting goods and services bearing the mark “Civil War” without any opposition whatsoever.

On Tuesday, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon got a notice of Allowance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that their application for the mark, “Civil War,” was well on its way to an unopposed registration.  Now, Oregon State and Oregon only need to provide the USPTO with evidence that they’re still using the mark — and official trademark registration is probably easily within sight.

And we all know that they’re still using the mark.  Oregon’s Department of Education (on behalf of the teams) is seeking the trademark protection because “The Civil War” is the colloquial name for the big rivalry game played each year by Oregon State and the Oregon Ducks.  The game was first played in 1894 — some three decades after the actual Civil War.

How is Oregon so close to laying registered claim to trademark protection for “Civil War?”  Dare I call it blasphemous?  I do on the day after taking in the sights of the National Civil War Museum.  My colleague Tim Sitzmann suggests that perhaps there remains good grounds for opposing the mark.  Tim told me this morning that the mark could be denied protection as purely ornamental — that is, a mark that does not identify the source of the goods.

What are your thoughts out there?  Yes, the college rivalry is quite the institution — but are Oregon’s and Oregon State’s gameday wares worthy of the trademark protection?