President’s trademark wish does not fit the GI Bill

President Obama wants to stop military veterans from getting duped by for-profit schools offering phony benefits by having the GI Bill trademarked by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Intellectual property attorneys say the president’s request is unusual and impossible, according to U.S. trademark laws.

The GI Bill is a law that allows soldiers to get special financial considerations for a college education, along with other benefits. Many military personnel are not aware of the law’s limits in educational areas. GI Bill money cannot be used to purchase an education from private, for-profit schools.

Besides disseminating more information through colleges and military bases for vets about what the law covers, the president also wants to trademark the GI Bill. The president’s executive order to force the issue is being met with criticism from intellectual property experts, who say the GI Bill is ineligible for trademark status. The GI Bill does not fall under the category of a good or service. If it cannot sell something, it cannot be trademarked. Trademarks are owned exclusively for commercial use.

Experts agree that the Obama administration’s intention to get private schools to stop using the GI Bill to market unqualified programs to veterans is honorable. Is trademarking the GI Bill to stop the schools’ deceptive practices doable?

An alternative would be to take the issue to Congress. Rather than try to wedge the initiative sideways into current law, lawmakers could grant the VA commercial rights to the GI Bill, much like the way the Red Cross is treated.

Many believe the president is asking for the impossible, when more reasonable legal avenues are open to limit the use of the GI Bill and benefit U.S. military veterans. One intellectual property attorney suggested that the administration should instead sue schools for false advertising.

Source: Businessweek, “Obama Wants to Trademark the GI Bill. Good Luck with That,” Kristen Hinman, Apr. 27, 2012