To fight fraud, VA trademarks “GI Bill”

December 7, 2012

GI Bill Logo TrademarkOne of the developments I have been eyeing with interest lately is the concern growing over institutions that have been accused of improperly profiting from students’ willingness to pay a lot of money for higher education.

Chiefly, that’s been for-profit schools that disgruntled students and some education industry observers say have misled pupils with inaccurate job-placement statistics and offered comparatively little benefit for the tuition received.

But evidently, there has been some problem with loose usage of the term “GI Bill,” too, prompting the Department of Veterans Affairs to trademark that term. It seems the goal is to take back control of that phrase and limit how it can be used in the interest of protecting veterans seeking federally supported education and training for their post-military careers.

This spring, the Obama administration ordered the VA, Department of Education and Department of Defense to take action against “deceptive and misleading” uses of the phrase. Obtaining the trademark was performed in furtherance of that order.

As best I can tell, there has been concern that the term “GI Bill” is being used to lure eager veterans into education programs without informing them of things like true cost, loans, dropout rates and job-placement statistics.

This is a good example of the sort of gatekeeping for which trademarks can be used. One of the chief goals of trademarks is to prevent consumer confusion and stop unauthorized or illegitimate use of a word, phrase or symbol.

I tend to think of trademarks as applying mostly in a commercial context, so it is interesting to see it being deployed in this manner, where societal goal – in this case, protecting veterans – is at stake.