Universities should register their brands as trademarks overseas to protect themselves from imitation, an intellectual property lawyer has said.
Doug Locke, a partner at Veale Wasbrough Vizards, told a Westminster Higher Education Forum event on transnational education that institutions could do little if their names and logos were not registered.
He shared the experience of a UK university that had been confused to receive complaints about poor service in Macau when it did not have a branch campus in the region. It turned out that the complainants had been duped into paying a fraudster who led them to believe that they were enrolling on one of the institution’s courses. Since the university had registered its brand as a trademark, it was able to take action.
Mr Locke contrasted this with a UK school that discovered a South American institution using its name and imitating its activities, all the way down to the school song. It had not registered its trademark so was powerless to do anything other than write a polite letter of complaint.
“It is really important to get things registered in territories in which you are active and plan to be active,” Mr Locke said.
He added that universities often thought they had “complete coverage” in trademark terms when this was “nearly always not the case”.
Mr Locke said that while it was important to draw up strong contracts for transnational education, it was also vital to build strong personal relationships with the partners involved. In a long-term project, “there will be crises and the contract will help you only so far”.
The event, held on 10 March, also heard from Stephen Jackson, associate director international at the Quality Assurance Agency. He said QAA reviews of universities’ transnational activities were likely to be more closely aligned with scrutiny of their UK operations in future.