In the world of Dr Seuss it was the Grinch who stole Christmas, but many scientists may feel that the Royal Institution now deserves the tag.
There has been uproar over the organisation’s registering of the trademark “Christmas Lectures” in relation to its popular annual science events for young people, started in 1825 by Michael Faraday.
A number of academics were sent letters last month informing them that the institution had trademarked the description and requesting that “the name CHRISTMAS LECTURES or CHRISTMAS LECTURE should not be used for any event without our consent” to avoid confusing the public.
After a social media backlash, the Royal Institution revised its position, saying it was never its intention “to dissuade anyone from organising an event celebrating science, nor to ask organisers to stop running events”. They would be able to continue using the expression “Christmas Lecture” if they became part of a “Christmas festival of science” by completing an online agreement with the body, it adds.
But the move has failed to placate angry academics, with at least one refusing to change the name of his university’s yuletide event.
In a letter to the organisation, Pat Monaghan, Regius professor of zoology at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine - which has run its Ornithology Christmas Lecture for the past 20 years - says she cannot understand why the institution has “embarked on a course which seems set to irritate a large number of people, and does no credit to the Royal Institution”.
“It seems akin to trying to trademark the term ‘Christmas Party’,” she adds. “While it is thoughtful of you to offer us the opportunity to continue to describe our Christmas lecture as a Christmas lecture if we become part of your ‘Christmas Festival of Science’, I think we would prefer our event to remain with the clear and well established heading that it currently has.”
In a statement on its website, the Royal Institution says it registered the name over concerns that someone else could trademark the term. However, feedback highlighted how important “Christmas Lecture” is to science communicators and had led it to revise its position, it adds.
Posts on Twitter have queried whether the use of “Christmas Lecture” to describe a lecture around Christmas time would legally infringe the trademark, given that it would be an honest description of the event.