May 28, 2004

UGA By Any Other Name

UGA May Lose It's Name [Atlanta Journal Constitution]

After 219 years, the University of Georgia could become the school with no name.

UGA's already messy divorce from its fund-raising organization took a nasty, unexpected twist Thursday: It turns out that the university doesn't hold the trademark to its own name. Instead, in papers filed last year, the University of Georgia Foundation has declared itself the owner of all things labeled "University of Georgia."

In doing so, the nonprofit foundation asserted control over every commercial use of the university's moniker, from UGA-embossed coffee mugs to boxer shorts — to "education services, namely providing instruction at the college level," according to its trademark papers.

It's not clear how the trademark filing will affect a yearlong dispute over attempts by some foundation trustees to oust UGA President Michael Adams. But the name issue puts a new spin on the state Board of Regents' decision Tuesday to end UGA's 67-year relationship with the foundation.

On Wednesday, regents' leaders said that if the foundation remained in business, it could no longer operate with the university's imprimatur. State officials described UGA's name as the regents' "intellectual property."

But, at least in theory, the foundation could try to force the University of Georgia, founded in 1785, to stop calling itself the University of Georgia.

How's that for an unfortunate turn of events? I'm sure that the UGA Foundation will just use this for levarage, but consider for a moment if the UGA Foundation successfully pressed for UGA to change it's name? Let's run the absolute worst-case scenario. (Pardon me as I try to channel Lewis Grizzard for a moment... ah, there.)

The UGA Foundation, embittered by years of disputes, hires a Dream Team of lawyers and wins legal ownership of the name "The University of Georgia" and "UGA." Along with the rights to these names comes a flood of lucrative licensing deals for t-shirts and other promotional items.

The Foundation finds itself suddenly swimming in the cash, newly freed of the ties to the university whose name it owns. It's profit margins draw the attention of Big Business and The Foundation is quickly purchased by AOL/Time/Warner. Ted Turner and the boys, in dire need of the revenue stream, decide to cease any financial support to the University.

Meanwhile, the University is stripped of revenues from licensing it's name and donations from the UGA Foundation, reducing it to near-bankruptcy. They have to find a new source of revenue fast, or they would be faced with shutting down the school. They hold frantic fund-raising efforts, including a telethon hosted by Ray Goff and Larry Munson, offering a glossy 8x10 of the famous picture of our mascot biting the Auburn player in the end zone for each donation above $150.

However, The University's emergency fundraising efforts come up tragically short. Protests by angry students and parents continue for weeks as the Board of Regents conduct emergency meetings to keep the school open. In the 11th hour, The University has no choice but to take cues from professional sports and whore itself out to commercial advertisers.

When the students return in the fall, the new buildings are unveiled: The School of Music, presented by Napster. The Viagra Pharmacy School. The Wal-Mart School of Business. The Amazon.Com Library building. The "1-800-Divorce" School of Law. The School of Psychology, brought to you by Paxil. The Crayola Art School. Caterpillar Bulldozers present: The Wayne Hill School of Environmental Design.

Eventually, the university sells the remaining rights to Disney. Our school colors change to orange and black, and our new mascot, Nemo, leads the "Fighting Clown Fish" onto Eisner Field (where the hedges have been trimmed into amusing character topiaries). Newly-issued diplomas bear signatures of Mickey Mouse ("Chairman of Fun") and Professor Von Drake ("Dean of Smart Stuff"). Local merchants start to cash in on the trend, opening "Lilo & Stitches" Alterations, "The Emperor's New Grooves" records store, and the "Buzz and Woody" Bar & Gentleman's Club.

The final insult comes when the newly-renovated arches welcome students to "Disney's Georgia University Adventure."

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