Royal Institution backs down on Christmas lectures

The Royal Institution has scrapped efforts to ask academics to sign an agreement if they want to use its trademarked term “Christmas Lectures”.

July 19, 2013

Christmas Lectures

The body told Times Higher Education that academics and universities promoting lectures at Christmas time would now not be infringing its trademark by using the term.

Earlier this year the RI registered the trademark in relation to its popular annual science events for young people, started in 1825 by Michael Faraday.

In May the organisation sent letters to a number of academics 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, allowing organisers 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.

But this did little to assuage the uproar.

In a statement to THE on 19 July the RI said it had since “spent time carefully reassessing its position” as a result of the “unexpected negative reaction” it received to its letters.

The RI said it would not consider the use of the words “Christmas Lectures” by academic establishments, or those working in or for academic establishments, to infringe the RI’s rights to its trademark.

“We do not wish to obstruct the promotion by educational establishments (or those who work in the academic community) of educational events at Christmas time and apologise for any uncertainty and aggravation our previous correspondence has clearly caused to some,” it said in a statement.

By registering the trademark, the RI said it was seeking to prevent unauthorised third parties from profiting from their own use of the term. 

“In other words, we did not want third parties to commercially exploit ‘CHRISTMAS LECTURES’ (including use of this mark in a non-descriptive sense) and weaken or damage the Ri’s rights to CHRISTMAS LECTURES in the process. 

“We appreciate that use by academics to describe lectures held at Christmas time as ‘Christmas Lectures’ is unlikely to weaken or damage the Ri’s rights,” added the statement.

Mike Merrifield, professor of astronomy at the University of Nottingham, who organises science lectures at Christmas and had called the RI’s previous position “ludicrous”, said he saw the response as a fulsome apology that he hoped would draw a line under the matter.

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