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VA trademarks 'GI Bill' in effort to crack down on misuse

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs now owns the words “GI Bill.”

Officials announced Monday they have secured a registered trademark for the phrase as part of a yearlong effort to crack down on misuse and misrepresentation of veterans’ education benefits. They said the idea is not to ramp up prosecution of schools using the words but instead to give the department more leverage in cases of abuse.

In April, President Barack Obama announced plans for the trademark as part of series of efforts to curb deceptive marketing aimed at students using GI Bill benefits.

Curtis Coy, VA deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity, said the move “gives us a mechanism to pursue any malfeasance.” The department isn’t planning to hire more staffers to monitor and prosecute abuse of the term, but will have better legal standing to do so if the need arises.

In June, a marketing firm behind the website GIBill.com agreed to pay $2.5 million in penalties and give up the web address following criticism from the VA and a lawsuit by a coalition of state attorneys general accusing them of presenting themselves as a government authority on veterans’ education benefits.

Coy said the department has not seen a rise in similar misleading actions, but officials wanted to protect the name to discourage similar efforts.

Schools providing appropriate information about GI Bill benefits should not worry about running afoul of the trademark, according to Robert Worley, director of education services for the department. VA officials will develop a “terms of use” guideline for outside agency use of the phrase in coming months.

Trademarks do not limit “fair use” of a phrase, and do not open the door to unbridled prosecution of anyone using those words, according to Amanda Greenspon, an associate with the law firm Munck Wilson Mandala, who specializes in intellectual property issues.

“But with the trademark, a private entity can’t come in and take that name,” she said. “This is a well-known name, so you don’t want someone else trading off of that.”

In a statement, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the move will help all veterans to be “informed consumers in their educational pursuit.”

shanel@stripes.osd.mil
Twitter: @LeoShane

 

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