Houston Law School Says Rival Swiped Name

           HOUSTON (CN) — What’s in a name? Everything, the University of Houston claims in a trademark lawsuit against a rival that renamed itself Houston College of Law last week.
     The defendant South Texas College of Law, founded in downtown Houston in 1927 as a night school for working professionals, has struggled to gain national recognition in part because its name was not associated with its hometown, according to school officials.
     The school announced on June 22 that it was changing its name to Houston College of Law, after a four-year study that involved “extensive input from alumni, students, faculty, staff, and the legal community,” school president Donald Guter said in a statement.
     The decision brought immediate threats of litigation from the University of Houston, which followed through on Monday with a federal lawsuit filed by its star alumnus, Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee.
     Buzbee has won more than $1 billion in verdicts and judgments, most notably $100 million a Galveston federal jury ordered BP to pay his 10 clients in 2009 for exposing them to toxic chemicals released from its refinery.
     He also defended former Texas Gov. Rick Perry against criminal corruption charges that were dismissed in April.
     Buzbee hosted a fund raiser on June 17 at his Houston mansion for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, where entry fees started at $5,400 per couple.
     The University of Houston says in its lawsuit that South Texas College of Law not only stole its name, but adopted infringing red-and-white school colors.
     “Red and white are the official school colors of UH and have been since the university seal was adopted in 1938. Every Friday is Cougar Red Friday at UH. Students, faculty and alumni wear red and white to pride and passion for the institution,” according to the lawsuit, which includes screen shots of the Houston College of Law’s web page with its new logo: The scales of justice against a red background.
     University of Houston says it trademarked its name in 1963 and that South Texas College of Law’s new name is “confusingly similar,” a phrase used in all federal trademark lawsuits because plaintiffs must prove that element to prevail.
     The university says South Texas College of Law’s name change is a desperate effort to grab hold of “the substantial reputational coattails of UH and the University of Houston Law Center,” ranked 50th in 2016 for U.S. law schools by U.S. News and World Report.
     South Texas College of Law was not ranked this year by the report, according to the complaint.
     “STCL has admitted that the national name recognition of South Texas College of Law is minimal (around 2 percent). Rather than undertake an aggressive marketing campaign or other legitimate effort to raise its profile and standing, STCL simply, yet willfully, chose to appropriate UH’s red and white color scheme and change its name to a confusingly similar version of the well-known University of Houston registered and common law trademarks,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
     The University of Houston wants South Texas College of Law ordered to destroy all infringing advertising and web pages, an accounting of its profits from the infringement, and damages for trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising and dilution by blurring or tarnishment. It also alleges unfair competition and trademark infringement under Texas law.
     Houston College of Law officials said they are ready to defend the name in court.
     “The city’s name does not belong to the University of Houston, nor does Houston College of Law intend to market its services in any fashion that suggests affiliation with the University of Houston Law Center,” the school said in a statement.
     “The only change Houston College of Law has made is to its name. The law school has not adopted new colors or altered its website, other than to add its new logo. Houston College of Law’s archives show use of crimson as a primary color in its official communications, advertisements, graduation hoods, and former logos dating back to the 1960s.”

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