Princeton In Dispute With Merrill Lynch Over the Naming of Mutual Fund
There’s a Princeton Auto Body, a Princeton Dental Group, a Princeton Driving School and even a Hooters of Princeton. But the university that has shared the hoity-toity community’s name for more than 100 years says it’s drawing the line over a Wall Street investment house’s decision to sell “Princeton” mutual funds.
Princeton University’s legal counsel contacted Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. recently to complain about the company renaming its mutual funds “Princeton Portfolio Research & Management.”
“The university feels strongly about defending its name and we have actively and successfully challenged the use of its name in the past,” said Cass Cliatt, a university spokeswoman.
Cliatt cited a 2005 agreement with test prep company Princeton Review in which the company agreed to include disclaimers on its materials that the two are not related.
Merrill Lynch insists that corporate use of the Princeton name is fair game because it characterizes a place, not an institution. The new name, it says, refers to the mutual fund business being based in the Princeton area, in neighboring Plainsboro.
“Our marketing plans do not call for us to refer to the university in any way nor do we have any intention of using the reputation of the university to promote the brand,” Merrill Lynch said in a statement.
The company is distancing itself from comments made by Robert Doll, head of the mutual funds business, who told The Wall Street Journal that, “Princeton has positive connotations given the prestige of the university.”
The statement ruffled the feathers of Princeton University officials, who consider the matter more serious than local shops that use the Princeton moniker.
“There’s a difference between using the Princeton name based on the location, verses an intent to trade on the Princeton reputation,” Cliatt said.
University officials are also worried that the financial community will confuse the Merrill Lynch funds with Princeton University Investment Co., which manages the university’s $12 billion endowment.
The Princeton name is used by a variety of businesses not only in the borough and township of Princeton, but also in neighboring communities such as Plainsboro, West Windsor and Lawrence Township. And some companies in neighboring municipalities claim their headquarters are based in Princeton, drawing on the notable name because they share its ZIP code.
Cliatt said the university actively contacts businesses when use of the name conflicts with Princeton’s trademark.
Princeton isn’t the only elite school that tries to curtail the use of its name. Harvard University has its Harvard Trademark Program, which seeks to stop use of the university’s name around the world. (Harvard, of course, is based in Cambridge, Mass., while the community that shares its name is 30 miles to the west.)
The university has had to take action over unauthorized Harvard academies, business schools, research centers and medical centers opened in countries from India to Ghana, said Rick Calixto, the program’s director.
“At Harvard, we have to be vigilant, given how famous the trademark name is,” Calixto said.
— Associated Press
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