Harvard Wins Suit Against Filipino Jeans Company

The Harvard brand may be known worldwide, but the rights to it will have to stay in Cambridge.

Harvard literally sued the pants off Harvard Jeans Company, a subsidiary of Fredco Manufacturing, after the Philippines-based company printed “Harvard Jeans USA, Cambridge, MA, Established 1936” on apparel including t-shirts and jeans without license from the University.

“This is one of those cases where you look at it and say, ‘My goodness. They are blatantly infringing on Harvard’s trademark,’” said Rick Calixto, the director of the Harvard Trademark Program, which is responsible for disputes over licensing.

“It’s not like they just came up with the name Harvard out of nowhere,” he said. “They also wrote Cambridge, MA. How many Harvards are there in Cambridge?”

The Philippine Court of Appeals agreed Tuesday, ruling that Harvard Jeans’ “motive is to trade on Harvard’s reputation,” Mr. Calixto said.

Fredco had claimed the rights to the Harvard brand in the Philippines since Harvard does not have an existing license in the country.

But the court decided that Harvard had established its brand globally, even if it had not formally staked its claim in Southeast Asia.

“This is a very favorable ruling for future branding,” Calixto said. “Courts are recognizing the presence of Harvard throughout the world.”

Harvard Business School Professor Lakshmi Iyer, who has studied the Philippines and worked in other developing countries in Southeast Asia, said she agreed about the University’s brand dominance.

“Harvard is the single most known American university all over the world, whether it’s in the Philippines, or Vietnam, or India,” she said.

“If your son or daughter goes to Harvard or you are connected to Harvard, it’s a huge matter of pride. I think that’s probably why the company is using the Harvard name, because of that prestige,” she added.

Calixto said he expects Harvard Jeans Company will “rethink” their decision to reject a licensing settlement.

If the company agrees to license its apparel through the University, which uses merchandise proceeds to fund undergraduate financial aid—Harvard Jeans Company will join a legion of sellers throughout the world who pay royalties to Harvard to use its brand name.

The Harvard Coop, with its aisles full of Harvard sweatshirts, umbrellas, and pens, must have every one of its products pre-approved and cleared by the University as part of its licensing agreement, according to Alan Powell, the store’s merchandising director.

Even Crimson Corner, an outdoor newsstand that sells discount Harvard t-shirts in Harvard Square, doesn’t escape the auspices of Harvard’s branding empire.

The store gets its Harvard clothes from “a guy who prints them up and sends them out at all hours of the night,” said clerk Delk Morehouse.

“But oh yeah, it’s all licensed,” he added. “Everything that’s got anything to do with Harvard, they get a cut.”