Houston law schools battle over name

South Texas College of Law has formally changed its name to Houston College of Law in an effort to bolster its regional and national profile. But the move has drawn criticism and a lawsuit.

The University of Houston System – which operates the University of Houston Law Center – has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against its neighboring school.

“This is about protecting our reputation and our business,” said Tilman Fertitta, chairman of the UH System Board of Regents. “We’ve earned our standing as a nationally ranked law center, and we won’t allow someone else to change their name and colors and market themselves on our success. 

UH’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Houston, alleges the name change and adoption of a similar red and white color scheme constitutes “intentional and willful infringement of UH’s intellectual property and unfair competition,” which results in “confusion in the marketplace and damage” to the university and its brand.

Houston College of Law, however, asserts its new name will not create confusion, and it says it is prepared to defend that position in court. The private school was founded in 1923 and is older than the public University of Houston, which was founded in 1947.

“Creating market confusion would be in direct conflict with the mission of our 93-year-old, private, independent law school,” said J. Ken Johnson, chairman of the Houston College of Law board of directors. “For many years we’ve dealt with misunderstanding surrounding ‘South Texas,’ which is not descriptive of our historic location in downtown Houston. 

The school also said it hasn’t changed its colors, and has in fact used crimson as a primary color since the 1960s.

South Texas College of Law said it is transforming its brand to bring increased awareness to the school’s downtown Houston location, and to better represent its diversity and global impact. A third-party market research firm conducted a comprehensive feasibility study to analyze the school’s brand recognition among various audiences; overwhelmingly, stakeholders recommended including the city name in the school’s name.  

The two schools are less than 4 miles apart with Houston College of Law in downtown and the University of Houston to the southeast of downtown. Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, a historically black college, is also located in Houston. It is directly adjacent to University of Houston.