back to article Cisco sued by East Carolina University

East Carolina University (ECU), which is based in the rural town of Greenville on the hatchet face of North Carolina, is probably the last organization you would expect to pick a legal fight with networking giant and server wannabe Cisco Systems. But late last week ECU, whose football team is pretty good and goes by the name the …


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  1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge


    ECU has registered the trademark for "Education services in the nature of courses at the university level.", much as you'd expect, and Cisco has trademarked it for the industries in which it operates, also much as you'd expect. The registrations are for different categories and therefore don't overlap.

    Are there any trademark lawyers in the house? Realistically, how likely would this action be to succeed if it went all the way through the courts?

    1. LarsG


      Have they not got better things to do with their time?

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Hmm

      Not a lawyer but, well... I would say odds aren't good.

      Have a search for the Service Mark in question. Not the first guys who start tomorrows here...

      The USPTO uses something called 'gate.exe'... and "Please logout when you are done to release system resources allocated for you."

      But anyway so I went to that shop to buy some networking gear but wound up with an inscription to bumfuck U instead. What do?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm

      note, trademark is only protected in the same market and/or industry and is meant to stop one company from profiting by using another company's established trademark. Therefore a trademark in medicine is not affected by trademark in software.

      So unless ECU has been selling network/server kits and using this trademark on their kits; then they have no case.

    4. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Hmm

      A "thumbs down" for asking a question, thanks The Register readers!

      In case it wasn't clear, I used the USPTO's trademark search (and forgot to log out), hence the quoted trademark category for the ECU's registration, and the discussion of Cisco's registration. My understanding is that since the registrations don't overlap ECU doesn't have a case, but I want to know whether that's absolutely true in the dank and urine soaked world of trademark law.

  2. Rukario

    Actually, Kiribati would be the proper owner of the "tomorrow starts here", at time zone GMT+14. (Interesting, I'm going to San Jose this week.)

    1. Captain DaFt


      Could you drop a note to Burt Bacharach, and tell him how to get there? (It's been such a long time, he may go wrong.)

    2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      Actually, Kiribati would be the proper owner of the "tomorrow starts here", at time zone GMT

      Actually Greenwich mean time is the start of today which would make somewhere in Brazil (on the coastal side of the R. dos Pescaderos) the first place to see daylight for most of the year. (Not counting polar regions.)

      Since neither Cisco nor the college would be places where tomorrow starts the whole thing is just a typical US meme.

  3. frank ly

    Cliche me this

    I thought that 'Tomorrow starts here', 'The future starts here', etc had been used as marketing catchphrases all over the place and had become cliches.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: Cliche me this

      +1 .

      It's a bit like trademarking "Tommorrow never comes" or "The grass is always greener on the other side". Do they really have the right to trademark everyday phrases or idioms ?

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: Cliche me this

        They're trademarks, not patents. You can register as a trademark things that aren't original, e.g. "The Real Thing" or the colour of Coca-Cola cans, as long as no-one else uses it already. If you own a trade mark, you are required to defend it or you may lose your rights to it, and I suspect this is what is happening here.

        I claim 'Tomorrow belongs to me', if anyone's interested.

        1. Khaptain Silver badge

          Re: Cliche me this


          Yes I agree they are trademarks and not patents but are they really allowed to trademark common phrases ?.

          Why would one company be allowed more than any other to trademark every speech.

          I get the feeling that Coca Cola's "It's the real thing" was invented by Coca Cola ( although I could be completely wrong here) so I can easilly understand them tradmarking that phrase.

          1. Chris Miller

            Re: Cliche me this

            "It's the real thing" was registered as a Coke trademark in 1969. Henry James wrote a short story called "The Real Thing" in 1862 (and I'm sure he wouldn't have claimed the phrase as his original).

            1. Khaptain Silver badge

              Re: Cliche me this

              I bow down to you kind sir, I have learned something new today.

              The book appears to be short and amusing, I'll give it a read.

              it's available here Gutenburg project - the Real Thing by Henry James

              So obviously Coca Cola didn't invent the phrase...It has just become so synonymous with them.

              1. vic 4

                Re: It has just become so synonymous with them.

                And that is the reason people can trademark phrases, common or not, but only in association with their market. The idea being that if anyone else used it a consumer could get confused.

  4. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  5. Pen-y-gors Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Try a quick Google

    ECU obviously not a place to go to learn about interwebs and related techie things - if they tried a look-up in a-well-known-search-engine they would discover loads of places that have used the phrase e.g. Christchurch Earthquake Appeal

    1. Kevin Johnston

      Re: Try a quick Google

      Ah yes, but how many of those places are likely to have a bucket of spare cash to replace some funding that has gone AWOL?

      1. theblackhand Silver badge

        Re: Try a quick Google

        Re: Ah yes, but how many of those places are likely to have a bucket of spare cash to replace some funding that has gone AWOL?

        AWOL or misspent on dubious legal advice?

  6. g e

    Too short of cash?

    Or maybe too much spare cash lying around so spend some via the legal dept before year end.

    It's a bizarre fight to pick over essentially nothing.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Try a slightly slower google

    If you exclude cisco and ECU, and search for results from 2002 and earlier, there are a number of hits referring to a paper presented at a conference called "Tomorrow Starts Here" in 1982. If there was an academic conference with this title does that invalidate part of ECU's trademark? (I know nothing about trademark law...)

    1. JohnG

      Re: Try a slightly slower google

      Yes - I guess ECU will look forward to suing Intel, the Japanese government and the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal, who all apparently believe that "Tomorrow starts here".

  8. Fihart

    It's a slogan, they get copied.

    As per:

    "Tomorrow's Technology Today" (IBM originally and later nicked all over the place)

    "Expect the Unexpected" (Charisma Records for Peter Gabriel album, later used by Barclays Bank).

  9. Def Silver badge

    If the East Carolina University website is anything to go by, you might be mistaken for thinking tomorrow started about five years ago.

  10. fishman

    ECU ranking

    East Carolina University is ranked as number 199 for national universities. And there are many colleges and regional universities (colleges that offer relatively few advanced degrees) that are far better. So maybe they should change their slogan to "Tomorrow Starts Here - If you can't read and write".

  11. Wade Burchette Silver badge


    I am an ECU alumnus so let me give you some background into the university.

    First, it has a reputation as being a party college. The professors are actually very good and personal. But what happens is kids go there because they think it is a party college. They go and are not serious about their education. Probably only 1/3 of the students who go there are serious. After 2 years they are gone but the damage is done, the academics rating is lowered, and the cycle repeats.

    What I liked about the teachers is they knew who were the serious ones and they took an active interest in them. I even had one stop me while I walking to another class to give me some advice about how to do better. You do have your douchebags. I had one professor accusing me of cheating because I turned in a project that was, in his words, "an A student's work and you are not an A student". After 10 minutes of grilling me, he said "I know you did this project" but still grilled me for another 10 minutes. At least I got an A in that class.

    ECU can claim Sandra Bullock as an alumnus too. So it is not all bad. It would be a decent university if it could somehow shake the party college identity it has. They don't try to be one, in fact there really isn't much to do there. (Maybe that is why they drink all day, out of boredom.) But it is caught in a vicious cycle. I think this lawsuit is stupid and a waste of money. The best thing the university can spend money on is to keep the lazy kids who only want to let loose away from mommy and daddy away from the university.

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: Background

      A couple of the hardest working persons I've ever met were ECU graduates, both women, and both I believe North Carolina natives.

      Is Greenville really rural?

  12. Menelaus-uk

    At least it's not in the form of "Today's X for tomorrows Y".

  13. unitron

    If I might make a correction or two...

    ...having grown up in the RF footprints of both.

    "A commenter on the website of the local TV station in Greenville..."

    The local TV station in Greenville is CBS affiliate WNCT.

    WITN is the NBC affiliate licensed to nearby-ish Washington, NC.

    And though it's not likely to be mistaken for New York City, or even Charlotte, it's been a while now since one could really consider Greenville "rural".

    I haven't even heard the other community mentioned called "Little Washington" in a couple of decades.

  14. Stratman

    I really hope

    this ties up every court in Americashire for decades.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm both wrong

    According to Yahoo! Answers!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about Bosch, Siemens, Marelli, Visteon and Mitsubishi collectively sue them for calling themselves "ECU", using prior art as the reason? :P

  17. Herby

    USPTO use Google??

    That would be the day. I believe that the only thing the "search engine" of the USPTO is an internal one. It really doesn't look THAT far.

    Most likely by design (unfortunately!).

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