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Harvard Settles Name Lawsuit

The University entered into a licensing agreement with a scientific instrument company earlier this week, allowing the firm to continue to share the Harvard name and resolving a multi-year legal conflict.

Harvard Bioscience, a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of specialized tools for biological research, announced the agreement on Tuesday. The deal allows the company and its subsidiary, Harvard Apparatus, to retain their names legally.

“I think it’s a win-win agreement for everyone,” said David Green, president of Harvard Bioscience. “We’ve been using the Harvard Apparatus name for 100 years.”

Green said the agreement eliminates the threat of a continuing lawsuit by the University and will help root out companies that try to take advantage of the school’s reputation.

“I think it gives them a stronger position to go out after genuine pretenders who are using Harvard’s name,” he said, noting that such companies will not be able to point a finger at Harvard Bioscience as setting a precedent for unchecked and illegal use of the famous name.

The company’s decision to adopt the name Harvard Bioscience in September 2000 prompted the University to file a lawsuit in December 2000 on the grounds that the name implies a connection to the University and Harvard Medical School (HMS), according to University spokesperson Joe Wrinn said two years ago.

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From its founding in 1901 until the name change, the company had solely called itself Harvard Apparatus.

Rick Calixto, Harvard’s trademark program director, yesterday stressed the need to protect the University’s name.

“You want to prevent third parties from confusing or misleading consumers,” he said.

While Harvard’s trademark program is investigating between 20 and 30 incidents at a given time, Calixto said, the case with Harvard Bioscience was a “very peculiar” matter.

Although he would not elaborate on the specifics of the deal because of confidentiality clauses in the agreement, he noted that time is an important consideration in trademark cases.

“If you let a lot of time pass before you do something about [an infringement],” Calixto said, “it’s too late.”

“If you’re an owner of a trademark, then trademark law requires that you police the use of that name,” he added.

The agreement also allows the instrument company to preserve the names of some of its products, although the corporation must avoid using the color crimson, as well as fonts typically used by the University and other potentially confusing stylistic elements.

The company was founded by Professor of Physiology William T. Porter, who introduced a new form of instruction emphasizing empirical observation at HMS.

According to the department of rare books and special collections at the Countway Library of Medicine, Porter’s teaching method led to a greater demand for experimental equipment.

University President Charles W. Eliot, Class of 1853, raised capital for the establishment of the company.

—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at blenkins@fas.harvard.edu.

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