East Carolina University, also known as ECU, has filed a lawsuit against Cisco Systems, Inc., a huge multination communication company. Why take on a networking and communication giant? Because Cisco has been using the phrase “Tomorrow Starts Here” in their newest marketing campaign – a phrase that ECU has been using for over a decade, and has already federally trademarked.
Filed in the North Carolina Eastern District Court, ECU is asking for injunctive relief and damages. Chancellor Steve Ballard of the University said that: “ECU has used the mark ‘Tomorrow Starts Here’ for over a decade, including in national advertisements and publications such as Forbes and Wired. We feel it is essential to take action to protect that defining trademark of our identity and vision.”
ECU is both a public and research university in North Carolina. It was founded in 1907 and started off as a teacher training school. It is now the largest higher-learning institution in eastern North Carolina and the second largest in all of North Carolina. With the enrollment rates continuing to rise, it has been the fastest-growing college in the University of North Carolina system for the last six years running.
One look at their website and you find the phrase “Tomorrow Starts Here” prominently displayed under their name. Even under their information about the school’s visions, it proudly states: “We open doors. We improve lives. We transform the present, and we discover the future. In these ways and more, we serve our community, our state, our nation, and our world as together we reach toward our greatest potential. Tomorrow starts here.”
In contrast, Cisco Systems, Inc. is a networking equipment corporation that is based in San Jose, California. They design, manufacture and sell networking equipment that include home Linksys products, cable modems, small business security and surveillance, WiFi access points, corporate IP videos and phones and business unified computing. They went public in 1990 and was soon listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange. In a rebranding move, Cisco Sytems was shortened to just Cisco and started their campaign titled “The Human Network,” which focused on making Cisco a household brand.
ECU believes that Cisco is in violation of the school’s federally registered trademark rights, and claims that Cisco’s use of the trademarked slogan could possibly cause confusion. They claim that the slogan is a brand that is used throughout the university and that it “represents an overlapping field of goods and services when compared with that of Cisco.”
For example, ECU’s College of Technology and Computer Science has created intellectual property and products that are currently being commercialized, which could easily be confused with the very products that Cisco offers. The slogan is also used to promote their world-wide online education program, which heavily promotes one of their key fields, distance education technology.
While ECU is up in arms about this alleged trademark infringement, Cisco was unaware that they did anything wrong until the lawsuit was filed. Karen Tillman, spokesperson for Cisco said in a statement: “We were surprised to learn that East Carolina University filed a complaint this morning. Cisco takes intellectual property rights very seriously, and we are confident that our new campaign does not create any confusion in the marketplace.”
The $100 million Cisco advertising campaign that uses the phrase in question was launched in December 2012. With “Tomorrow Starts Here” at the forefront, the campaign also says: “Today, more than 99% of our world is still not connected to the Internet. But we’re working on it” with the goal to position itself as a global IT company. Last month, Cisco’s brand chief Blair Christie told TheStreet.com that, “Tomorrow Starts Here is our new tagline, we’re going to have a global integrated campaign with print and television advertising, a lot of digital marketing, social media, public relations, a whole integrated approach to this.” Cisco even operates the campaign on Twitter using the hashtag “TomorrowStartsHere.” Prior to this tagline, Cisco had still been using “The Human Network” as its marketing tagline.
While Cisco has addressed the lawsuit, it remains to be seen if they will take on the University. Each side seems to be adamant about their position on whether or not Cisco’s use of the “Tomorrow Starts Here” phrase infringes on ECU’s trademark or not.