United States: The College Admissions Scandal Crosses Into Trademark Territory

Last Updated: May 21 2019
Article by John W. Scruton

By now you are no doubt familiar with the current college admissions scandal. After a few weeks of celebrities and other wealthy folks being embarrassed, being criminally charged, and pleading to those charges, a trademark issue finally surfaced in the popular press. It supplements the trademark issue that is the basis for the whole affair.

The trademark issue that the press picked up concerns Olivia Jade, who, before the scandal broke, had already gained fame as a YouTube star and "influencer." Reports indicate that Olivia Jade admitted she was not especially interested in the academic side of college but thought the "game day" and partying sounded more her style. Olivia Jade's parents are major players in the scandal, and are alleged to have arranged for Olivia Jade and her sister to be admitted to the University of Southern California on the (false) pretense that they were recruited athletes bound for the women's crew team. The whole affair caused great embarrassment to Olivia Jade and made her the butt of lots of jokes and the target of much schadenfreude. Meanwhile, her famous parents are facing possible time in the Big House.

In the midst of this, the media discovered a trademark story and piled on Olivia Jade. It seems that before all this broke, an application had been filed on her behalf to register the mark OLIVIA JADE BEAUTY for a variety of cosmetics, skin preparations, and the like. The list included several types of goods, connected by commas and semicolons. The Patent and Trademark Office initially refused registration in part because "applicant must correct the punctuation in the identification to clarify the individual items in the list of goods."

This led outlets including USA Today, Fox News, and the Huffington Post to run stories saying that the application had been rejected for "poor punctuation." After noting issues with her USC application (which she may or may not have written herself), the clever reporters gleefully reported the punctuation failures, with at least one observing that she could have used a little help with her trademark application, too. It's easy to see why the angle was too tempting, considering the subject reportedly had commented on Twitter that it's "so hard to try in school when you don't care about anything you're learning." If you had cared a little more, you might have learned punctuation, am I right?

Here's the thing, though: there may be lots of reasons to criticize Olivia Jade, but this is not one of them.

For starters, although this particular application apparently has at least some customized language, it is very likely that the description of goods in the application (which is the part with the punctuation errors) was largely created by clicking on language pre-approved by the PTO. When you do that, the PTO website provides the punctuation itself, so any errors in that part would be the fault of the PTO rather than the applicant. My guess is that the punctuation problems arose in the integration of custom language into the language provided by the PTO.

Second, as someone who fancies himself to have a pretty decent working knowledge of the rules of acceptable English punctuation, I have found the punctuation choices required by the PTO not only not to be required by those rules, but at times to be contrary to them. Regardless, it's a very routine matter to give the PTO the punctuation it wants and move on. There's no call for excessive pride in the literary purity of your trademark application.

Third, and perhaps most amusing in this context, it is unlikely that Olivia Jade ever contributed any punctuation to the offending description. The application was filed by her attorney, Perry Viscounty, of the prestigious law firm Latham & Watkins. Mr. Viscounty, as it happens, has both a BA and law degree from . . . the University of Southern California. (If Mr. Viscounty was accepted as a recruit for the crew team, it is not reflected in his online resume.) You can bet the farm that he, and not Olivia Jade, prepared the application and chose the punctuation – to the extent the PTO website didn't choose it for him.

So while I don't think there's any call to ridicule anybody about this very routine matter, if you're going to ridicule someone, it should be that guy with two degrees from the very university that Olivia Jade's parents allegedly cheated to get her into. Of course, if you want to ridicule USC, don't let me stop you. As a guy with a degree from UCLA, I endorse that.

That takes care of the small trademark issue. In a larger sense, though, this scandal is all about trademarks, or at least branding. Someone – and from the press reports, it seems to be Olivia Jade's mother – was intent on getting the cachet associated with USC. (Yes, yes, I assure you, I've already made the jokes questioning that cachet.) Kids who could have led perfectly fine lives after going to slightly less prestigious schools were given extra help in the form of a bribe here, or a fake test-taker there (all allegedly at this time), to get them into one that would make them, or probably more importantly their parents, look a little more impressive. Someone wanted to be associated with the luxury brand.

We could compare this episode to buying a fake designer purse at a flea market. The point here was not to secure a great education for the child, any more than the point of the counterfeit purse is to own an attractive purse. Instead, the point is to associate ourselves with a name that we think will be impressive to others. Maybe we would all be a little happier if we were less focused on impressing others in that way. Olivia Jade's parents sure would be.

The lawyers at Trademarkology provide trademark registration services backed by the experience and service of one of the nation's oldest law firms. Click here to begin the process of protecting your brand name with a federally registered trademark.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions