TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Resolving The South Texas/Houston Brand Dispute: Exxon Law School?

HHE2Following up on my prior posts on South Texas College of Law's rebranding itself Houston College of Law, and the University of Houston Law Center's threatened lawsuit to protect its brand due to the "significant confusion this creates in the marketplace": 

Houston Business Journal, University of Houston Threatens Legal Action Over Law School Rebrand:

The University of Houston is not happy with South Texas College of Law's decision to rebrand itself to the Houston College of Law, a move announced June 22.

UH said in a statement that it will take legal action if necessary to defend the brand of its law school, the similarly named University of Houston Law Center.

Houston Chronicle, South Texas College of Law Not Backing Down From Name Change:

In a statement, leaders of the newly named Houston College of Law said they would not back down.

"The board of directors and administrators of Houston College of Law came to the name change decision after thoughtful and lengthy research and input from key constituencies, including alumni, students, faculty, staff, and donors," the statement said. "We made the decision to change the name of the 93-year-old law school based on overwhelming support to tie our institution with its birthplace in downtown Houston. We believe that we are on firm legal ground with this name change, and that we are acting in the best interest of the law school and its students."

Houston Chronicle editorial, What's In a Name?:

The venerable Houston institution known for nearly a century as South Texas College of Law gave itself a new name last week. Like a person saddled with "Junior" or "Sis" into adulthood, the oldest law school in town long has felt constricted - perhaps even disrespected - by a name that doesn't reflect its broader reach and ambition. Faculty members grew weary of going to conferences and being asked whether their institution was located in Harlingen or McAllen.

"(Surveys we conducted) showed we had a very low name recognition despite being here for over 90 years," Donald Guter, president and dean, told the Chronicle. "It would be a lot better for our purposes to get Houston in the name of the school, because part of the research was that people didn't even know where we were."

Changing the name, though, turned out to be a difficult process (and the difficulty's not over yet). The most obvious choice bumped up against the name of another law school in town, the University of Houston Law Center. ...  So STCL bit the bullet, so to speak, and gave itself a new name as of June 22. Still, we would counsel students and alumni to wait a while before they start buying T-shirts and bumper stickers bearing the new monicker, Houston College of Law. The University of Houston Law Center is threatening to sue. (What better training for budding lawyers?) ...

A cursory glance would suggest that UH has a pretty good case, given the confusion the new name is likely to cause and the harm that confusion might do to the UH brand.

This tumult could have been avoided, we humbly suggest, had STCL taken the Exxon approach to finding a new name. When the giant energy company was forced to relinquish its Esso name in 1972, a branding firm allegedly assigned the task to a computer. The name the machine churned out was absolutely meaningless but has become one of the most distinctive brand names in the world. If a rechristening is in order for Houston's newly christened law school, a computer might be just the thing.

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They can rehire Captain Hazelwood to teach Oil, Gas and Maritime Law.

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Jun 26, 2016 10:46:42 AM