Commonly known just as “Penn State,” The Pennsylvania State University is one of the largest and most popular universities in the country – with over 46,000 students between all 24 of its campuses.
But if you take a trip to Penn State, you’ll probably notice that the university goes by a number of different names – “Penn State,” “PSU,” “State,” and the famous “Happy Valley.” “Happy Valley” is essentially a nickname for the actual town of State College, PA., where Penn State is located. The name also references some other small boroughs around the university.
Penn State has maintained the name “Happy Valley” since the 1950’s – and its strong association with the name has led to the printing of “Happy Valley” on clothing, gifts, and other items sold in and around the university.
In December of 2018, the university decided to file a trademark application for “Happy Valley” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Specifically, Penn State wanted to protect the name from being used unofficially on clothing, knick-knacks, and other items (some of which might associate the university with unfavorable activities, like excessive alcohol consumption).
The USPTO denied the application, stating that “Happy Valley” cannot be a trademark because: 1. “Happy Valley” describes a geographical location, and; 2. Because the university’s use of the name is “ornamental.”
Penn State has 6 months to respond to the denial before the application is abandoned. But in doing so, Penn State will have to challenge the two reasons the trademark was initially denied.
First, Penn State will need to demonstrate that “Happy Valley” is not a geographical location. According to the university’s website, “ … in truth there is no geographic place in Centre County formally designated ‘Happy Valley.’ Happy Valley is generally used in an informal or even a slang context, often by journalists, and is not part of the University’s official style.”
Second, with respect to the issue of “Happy Valley” being “ornamental,” the university will have to demonstrate that consumers think of the university specifically when they hear the term “Happy Valley.”
The following video by attorney Josh Gerben, who is not directly involved with Penn State and the trademark application, analyzes the USPTO’s decision…
Penn State's trademark application for HAPPY VALLEY has been initially refused by the USPTO.
— Josh Gerben (@JoshGerben) March 13, 2019
Something makes it seem that Penn State probably won’t back down on acquiring the “Happy Valley” trademark just yet.