University of Rochester sues Rochester University over recent name change

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Dive Brief: 

  • University of Rochester, a private research university in New York, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit last week against Rochester University, a Christian college in Michigan, over its recent name change. 
  • The New York university is asking the judge to block Rochester University from using its name, which it adopted in 2019. It previously was known as Rochester College, and it was originally opened in 1959 under the name North Central Christian College. 
  • The University of Rochester, which was founded in 1850, says the similar names will likely lead to the two institutions being confused with one another. The university said it cannot tolerate people mistakenly believing “they are affiliated, connected, associated, sponsored, or approved by one another.” 

Dive Insight: 

The University of Rochester and Rochester University aren’t the only two colleges that share similar names. One example is Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Washington, in Seattle. Another is Miami University, in Ohio, and the University of Miami, in Florida. 

However, the University of Rochester alleges that confusion over the two institutions is harming its brand and undercutting its academic reputation. 

In the lawsuit, the University of Rochester pointed to its 173-year history, its nationwide alumni network and its relatively high position on U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings. It also touted that it is one of just several dozen colleges in the Association of American Universities, a highly selective group of research institutions.

“This confusion, and the likelihood thereof, is damaging the goodwill University of Rochester has built with the public by causing it to be associated with a school lacking the storied history and reputation University of Rochester has worked tirelessly and extensively to build in the United States and abroad,” the institution said in its complaint. 

The two institutions have web addresses that are only one character different — for Rochester University versus for University of Rochester. In some cases, looking for University of Rochester’s web address on Google leads to a pop-up asking whether the user meant to type Rochester University’s site instead. 

The notification also warns users that cybercriminals “sometimes mimic sites by making hard-to-see changes in the web address,” according to the lawsuit. 

Moreover, many LinkedIn users who listed themselves as Rochester University alumni appear to have no apparent connection with the Michigan institution and to have mixed up the two institutions, the lawsuit alleges. Prospective students seem to have made the same mistake on social media platforms

Rochester University has been through several name changes over the course of its 64-year history. From 1997 to 2019, it was known as Rochester College. Before that, its name was Michigan Christian College, which it switched to in 1978 from Michigan Christian Junior College to mark the addition of its first bachelor’s program. 

The Michigan university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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