West Point Sues Anti-War Grads

The United States Military Academy, a/k/a, the United States Government, a/k/a the citizens of the United States are suing a group of West Point graduates who have organized against the Iraq War to prevent their use of the “West Point” name.

The Army warned an anti-war group of former U.S. Military Academy cadets to stop using the words “West Point” in its name, saying they are trademarked. A co-founder of West Point Graduates Against the War countered Friday that his organization is simply following the cadets’ code. “At West Point, we were taught that cadets do not lie, cheat or steal — and to oppose those who do,” said William Cross, a 1962 West Point graduate. “We are a positive organization. We are not anti-West Point or anti-military. We are just trying to uphold what we were taught.”


West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Kent Cassella said the academy sent the April 12 warning letter because the group failed to go through a licensing process to get permission to use the term “West Point.” The group’s anti-war stance is irrelevant, he said. “This is not a political issue. They did not ask for permission. We are doing what any college or university would do to enforce its trademarks,” Cassella said.

The Army registered the words “West Point” — as well as “United States Military Academy,” “USMA,” and “U.S. Army” — as trademarks in 2000 to control their use on educational material and commercial goods.

An attorney hired by Cross and his colleagues said the warning raises questions of First Amendment speech protection and selective enforcement. Joseph Heath said he noted the concerns in a response sent to the Army on Monday; he has not yet received a reply, he said.

Surely, a trademark can not be enforced in this manner. If the group were trying to sell merchandise with the USMA crest or otherwise harm the commerical viability of West Point brand, I could see their case. But one would think that academy graduates would be have the right to organize and promote themselves as graduates.

While illogical for reasons I have outlined repeatedly (search the archives for “chicken hawk”) it is nonetheless true that being graduates of West Point and/or combat veterans (I’m guessing Cross served in Vietnam, given his graduating class) gives anti-war protestors an added credibility. They should certainly be entitled to call themselves “West Point Graduates Against the War.” Indeed, the only quibble that I have is that the group is open to “graduates, spouses and children,” thus belying the name.

Given the recency of the trademark, I’m also curious about its enforceabilty against other educational institutions that were already using it. I have seen perhaps dozens of primary and secondary schools using the name “West Point” over the years. Indeed, there are several towns across the land with that name. Google maps returns “about 1,720,000” results for “West Point.” In some cases, like hotels in Highland Falls, NY (right outside the gate) the attempted association with the Military Academy is obvious. But West Point Elementary School in Surprise, AZ? Not so much. Or, amusingly, West Point Shell in Annapolis, MD, home of the rival Naval Academy.

via email tip from Bill Jempty

UPDATE: A ’72 grad emails to say that non-grad “membership is open only to widows and children of graduates who have died.” That certainly makes more sense than the AP version of events.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Alan says:

    AFAIK, the leading case on this issue is Playboy v. Wells. Wells, a former Playboy Playmate of the Month, was sued for trademark infrigment. The Court decided that Welles’s use of the words “playboy” and “playmate” were a “fair use” of Playboy’s trademarks because they fairly described and identified her achievements, and Playboy had failed to introduce compelling evidence of actual consumer confusion over the arms-length relationship between Welles’s site and Playboy.


  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I would like to see these warriors try to prove their claim that someone lied, cheated or stole to get us into the Iraq war. Those cowards have believed the lies of a negitive press. In which other conflict of this size has the U.S. experience a .2% casualty rate? Certainly not Viet Nam.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    I’m not up on the case law, but from what I remember, if there is a reasonable chance of confusion with the trademark holder (whom I will assume is the USMA), they should win. The key issue to me is if they can show other “west point alum” organisations using the name without licensing. I suspect that the “west point” trademark has limitations restricting it to some connection to the USMA (as opposed to a geographical feature).

    Just thinking about this I could imagine some other trademark cases (assuming they have the trademark) for “Democrat’s for the subjugation of America to Islamic Terrorist” or “Republicans for the rounding up and killing of anyone not like us”. Could the party’s sue in such a case?