Last week, our University’s Board of Trustees decided to appeal for a second time an already drawn out trademark lawsuit with Florida National University.
The legal fight, initiated in 2012, began when the for-profit school changed its name from Florida National College to Florida National University following its accreditation to offer master’s programs and expand its curriculum. Since then, FIU has continued to defend itself, even appealing $1.15 million worth of attorney’s fees to FNU.
FIU’s beef with FNU is not new—and not completely unmerited.
In 1987, FIU sued the university, then named Florida International Institute, for trademark infringement after it changed its name to Florida International College. This no doubt stirred up confusion, and the college consented to change its name to Florida National College in 1989.
However, while the first lawsuit against FNU in 1989 was justifiable, the 2012 case wasn’t.
In the recent lawsuit, FIU claimed FNU’s new name infringed on its trademark and confused customers with affiliation for FNU to profit off of FIU’s reputation, thereby affecting its business. FIU also sued the university for unfair competition on the federal level.
The notion that FNU is drawing Panthers away from their den holds no water. More than 13 universities in the state have “Florida” and “University” in their names and acronyms, some of which are much larger and offer a wider range of degrees than FNU. The two institutions could also not be more different; FIU’s primary focus is research while FNU’s goal is to “prepare students for immediate gainful employment upon graduation.”
To say that FNU is “unfairly” competing with FIU based on size alone pure exaggeration. FIU is an enormous institution compared to FNU—it has over 54,000 students compared to FNU’s 3,819. Even the judge called the case “meritless.”
This drastic difference in size is one of the reasons why a judge in 2015 ruled the case as “exceptional—” that and FIU’s decision to draw out the case as much as possible.
In the 2015 ruling, FIU was unable to prove monetary loss due to FNU’s name change. The following year, FNU reduced the attorney fees FIU was required to pay from $1.6 million to $1.15 million—$866,629.80 for the district court case and $292,304.80 for the appeal process started by FIU. Our Board of Trustees haven’t given a penny of that money yet, instead opting to continue appealing and paying $505 to file an objection to the fees they owe FNU.
Why FIU would continue appealing this decision after the fact for three years makes no sense. Maybe they just enjoy mismanaging their money, or, as this case continues to prove, straight out burning it.
Like a schoolyard bully picking on a small child, FIU’s continuous pestering of FNU’s name and likeness is unwarranted and unnecessary. The appeal process has gone on for too long and for seemingly no reason, and it’s time we put an end to this meritless predicament. We can’t give back FNU the six years of their time that we took away, but we can at least give them back their lunch money.
Our University is a large, diverse, nationally-recognized institution that should be focused on expanding its services and opportunities rather than punching down at the little guys.