As lawmakers have spent months arguing over who should own the name Missouri State University, lawyers behind the scenes have nearly finished a process that would grant Southwest Missouri State University rights to the name, angering those who have said it belongs to MU.
In January and February 2004, SMSU filed three federal applications to trademark the names Missouri State and Missouri State University — two for clothing and one for educational services. Now, after nearly a year of processing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, lawyers from SMSU are awaiting word that the name is officially theirs — at least from the standpoint of federal commerce.
“The university had to be in a position that should the (Missouri General Assembly) approve the name, we have to be in a position to protect the name,” SMSU General Counsel John Black said.
A bill that would rename the Springfield school Missouri State University was recently passed by a Missouri Senate committee and could be on the Senate floor this week. Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, has said he would consider blocking action on the bill with a filibuster.
As of Friday, the two clothing trademarks filed by SMSU had nearly been approved, according to online trademark records. They were published for opposition by anyone, including Missouri lawmakers, on Nov. 16.
Opponents of the trademark had 30 days to respond, but Black said he hasn’t heard of any complaints. Typically, surviving the opposition period is the last step before a trademark is made official.
The third application, for educational services, has not been published for opposition yet, according to the trademark records. Black said he notified the trademark office that a name change for the university was pending state approval.
SMSU leaders have fought for more than a decade to drop their regional designation, and UM system supporters have argued loudly against the name change in the Missouri General Assembly.
Although the trademark doesn’t allow SMSU to change its name — state lawmakers must decide that — the move has angered name-change opponents, many of whom have said the name has rightfully belonged to MU for decades.
“I think it’s pretty arrogant to trademark a name even before you’re allowed to call yourself that,” said Jim Sterling, an MU journalism professor, former university curator and vocal name-change opponent.
Graham, one of the most outspoken opponents of the name change, said he has encouraged UM system officials at least twice to trademark Missouri State University themselves. He said Thursday that he didn’t know SMSU was working toward a trademark and hadn’t heard other legislators discussing it, either.
“I’m not surprised,” Graham said. SMSU “will try pretty much any sneaky tactic to secure our historic name.”
UM system lawyers never tried to trademark the name and aren’t planning to do so, UM system spokesman Joe Moore said.
The divisive name change has spent more than a year as a flashpoint of Missouri politics. Its supporters have argued that dropping the university’s regional designation would reflect the university’s growth and could also attract more students, faculty and donations.
Its opponents have said the name change might create confusion and could pull state funds away from the UM system if SMSU starts pursuing more programs. They have also said the name historically has belonged to MU, which was called Missouri State University in its early days.
Even the name Mizzou was derived from that history, Sterling said. Missouri State University became MSU, which became Old MSU, which became Old Mizzou.