A university brand also needs trademark protection: Case Aalto University

18.3.2020

Intellectual property rights are not only important for companies: Aalto University, which was established only ten years ago, has already gained international recognition that’s worth protecting. In a tight spot, Papula-Nevinpat’s European trademark attorney has been an invaluable help.

Aalto University was established in 2010, as the University of Art and Design Helsinki, the Helsinki School of Economics and Helsinki University of Technology were merged. Aalto has nearly 11 000 students and 4000 employees of whom close to 400 are professors. Each year about 12 500 applicants seek admission, and about 15% of them will be admitted.

From the trademark point of view, the merger of three formerly autonomous universities in 2010 meant that the new organization needed a new brand. Trademark registrations, an important element in brand building, were wisely included in the university’s brand strategy from the very beginning, as they filed for the first trademark applications already in 2008.

– You have to be ready to invest in your brand, and that includes trademarks, since trademarks are the legal basis on which you build the brand. Trademarks help you to manage your reputation, which is important for a university, because a good reputation draws in the best students and employees, says Jutta Kasslin, Manager, Marketing, from Aalto.

Indeed, the multidisciplinary university does well in international rankings. Aalto is the 37th most international of the world’s more than 20 000 universities, and placed 9th in ranking lists comparing young universities. The study fields and programmes offered by Aalto have also been ranked high. For example, their Bachelor’s Programme in Fashion was ranked the third best in the world (Aalto University rankings).

– We have really succeeded in our internationalization goals. We have over 1000 international employees and over 3000 international students, says Kasslin.

Widely registered trademarks

Original Aalto University logo designed by Rasmus Snabb. Photo: Aalto University

To secure the university’s internationalization strategy, we have been protecting our trademarks very widely from the start, both geographically but also in many different classes. Aalto University is our main brand, but Aalto has also other secondary brands, says Kasslin.

– Our researchers and teachers have managed to build an internationally recognized university, but a recognized brand comes with a higher risk of trademark infringement. With all our trademark registrations in order, these cases have been easy to handle, says Maria Rehbinder, Senior Legal Counsel, from Aalto University. For example, because we had registered our AALTO UNIVERSITY trademark in the United States, it was easy to get fake Aalto University degree certificates removed from an American website where they were sold for 99 dollars.

Trademark protection ensures freedom to operate in the key university fields: research and education. One company applied for trademark registrations with the word mark AALTO for research services in various countries, but Aalto University’s earlier registrations helped Aalto University to maintain its freedom to continue operations.

Aalto University is also home to a large number of startups – 50% of Finnish startups originating from universities come from Aalto. The students and researchers at Aalto are offered IP training to instruct them on how to protect their innovations.

In dealing with IP issues, European trademark attorney Jussi Mikkola from Papula-Nevinpat has been an invaluable help to Aalto University.

– As a lawyer, I appreciate Jussi’s thorough expertise. Whenever we’ve faced a difficult legal situation, Jussi has been able to find good and well-founded solutions, Maria Rehbinder comments.

– I also enjoy learning new things about this. It flows into our community, too: I’m lecturing a lot on IP and trademark rights, for example to our design students, and I’ll be able to use my experience in managing the university’s trademark portfolio.

The collaboration between Aalto University and Jussi Mikkola has been going on for almost 12 years now, since they filed the first trademark application. In a wise move, Aalto set out to protect its trademarks and domain names before announcing the name of the new university.

Trademark protection is a continuous process. As some of the older registrations become redundant and, for cost reasons alone, are not worth renewing, at the same time the dynamic and innovative university environment continues to provide new trademarks. That’s why it is important to maintain a regular dialogue with a trademark expert.

– I don’t have to spell out the university’s needs or strategic goals to Jussi. I’ve also recommended his expertise to some of my colleagues working with trademark issues, says Rehbinder.

– Aalto has protected its brand very well. They really teach by example: by taking good care of their own IP, they’ve gained first-hand experience to pass to the students, Mikkola comments.

– Trademark registrations are a safety measure. I have peace of mind as I know that our trademark matters are in good order, Kasslin adds.

Photo: Aalto University / Lasse Lecklin, 2013

Article’s main photo: Aalto University / Aino Huovio, 2015

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