The New York Times,
IT'S possible that Big Brother is trampling on free speech in the
matter of West Point versus West Point Graduates Against the War.
But it's most likely that there's a more familiar threat to health and
safety: lawyers running amok, this time citing the honor of the
military academy and raising the most persnickety questions of law.
The immediate issue is West Point's challenge to a new group called
West Point Graduates Against the War. Within a few weeks after it
formed a couple of months ago, it received a stern letter from Lori L.
Doughty, intellectual property lawyer for the military academy. The
letter said that the very words "West Point" were protected by
trademark, that they could not be used without permission and that"your immediate cooperation in the removal of the words 'West Point'
from the name of your organization and Web site is greatly
There's some history here. In 2000, the United States Army registered a
trademark on the words West Point and has also registered trademarks on
other terms for the school, including U.S.M.A. and United States
Military Academy. Since then, sometimes to the chagrin of folks in
Highland Falls, the village just outside its gates, West Point has
taken to heart the importance of protecting its trademark from
No one (yet) has wandered into the Ice Cream Shoppe on Main Street and
demanded a share of proceeds from the T-shirt reading "Ice Cream Shoppe
— A few licks from West Point," but Ms. Doughty says the shirt does, in
fact, infringe on the West Point trademark.
Joe D'Onofrio, the mayor, thus far has ignored a letter from the
academy saying he needs permission to call his new liquor store West
Point Wine & Spirits. Mohamed Sheikh, on the other hand, decided to
call his inn the Point to Point Inn, just to be safe.
"My lawyer said if I used the words West Point they'd come after me,
and I'd have to pay a couple of thousand dollars to change the name,"
he said. Other existing businesses in town, like the West Point Motel
or Vasily's West Point Clothing and Gifts, had their names
All of this, while not perhaps entirely neighborly, is pretty standard
in trademark law, in which lawyers say you lose your trademark
protection if you don't enforce it.
Ms. Doughty acknowledged some limits. The Academy is not trying to
enforce licensing rights on the West Point News in northeast Nebraska,
the city of West Point, Miss., or the West Point Barber Shop in West
Point, Va. They don't have anything to do with the military academy and
represent geographic places, so they are protected uses, she said.
Which brings us to West Point Graduates Against the War, which was
founded by three 1962 West Point graduates, Bill Cross, Jim Ryan and
Joe Wojcik. Its Web site, www.westpointgradsagainstthewar.org, includes
no official-looking West Point emblems like its seal or the black
Instead, it includes antiwar literature, wisdom from graduates like
Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower and
reflections on the West Point Honor Code. "Our Purpose," the Web site
reads: "To help reclaim the honor of the United States of America."
John F. Ward, a lawyer for the group, said West Point's trademark claim
was far too broad. He says the academy can't claim ownership of the
words West Point; it can claim a trademark only for things that can be
construed as official representations of the Academy or for specific
uses, whether for T-shirts or Christmas tree ornaments.
Mr. Ward said that since no one would expect that the Department of
Defense is sponsoring a group calling itself West Point Veterans
Against the War, no one could draw an inaccurate inference from the
"Nothing in trademark law prevents an individual from accurately
describing his status in society," he said. "It's called nominative
fair use. What they have to establish is that the use could confuse
someone. But you could ask any 12-year-old if an antiwar group is being
sponsored by the U.S. Army, and any 12-year-old would tell you no."
Ms. Doughty said that blurring and dilution of the trademark were as
important as causing confusion and that since the academy can't be seen
as endorsing any political point of view, the trademark issue is a
valid one. The two sides are discussing a possible agreement such as
keeping the name but including a disclaimer.
THE lawyers can fight that one out, but at least two things seem clear.
First, the dispute is the greatest thing that could have happened to
the group. Mr. Cross, a Vietnam combat veteran who spent 10 years in
the Army, taught at West Point and now teaches and does counseling near
Syracuse, said the group had been flooded by inquiries since the issue
And while it's easy to be skeptical of West Point's claim that its
behavior was all about trademarks and not about content, the academy
does have a history of bringing dissenting viewpoints to its campus.
And lawyers do tend to act like lawyers. Ms. Doughty was asked why she
hadn't moved against another threat to the republic, U.S.M.A.
Girlfriends, an online group of girlfriends of West Point graduates and
"I hadn't heard about that one," she said. "Dot-com or dot-org? I'll
send them a letter next week."