Cuum Est®

The cover story in yesterday’s Ubyssey was about UBC’s branding efforts over the years, and the university’s seemingly never-ending quest to adopt and maintain “a common and cohesive identity.” The Ubyssey likely chose to write this piece because of UBC’s recent attempts protect their brand with “outside” groups. They’ve targeted the twin evils of kids sports teams and AMS clubs, and asked both to stop using “UBC” in their names. As holders of the “UBC” trademark it is of course the university’s right to limit its usage among unaffiliated groups. However, they inevitably come off looking very heavy-handed. A search through the trademark database of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) reveals just how comprehensive they can be with trademarks on the UBC name. In addition to “UBC”, they also hold the following trademarks:

UBC is also very happy to trademark the seemingly meaningless strings of words they use ad nauseum in their branding. Things like “LIVING LAB”, “A PLACE OF MIND”, “FROM HERE”, and “START AN EVOLUTION”. However, one really important phrase has managed to escape UBC’s shotgun approach to trademarks: the university motto “Tuum Est“.

It’s not that they didn’t try to trademark it. Oh, they did, back in the 80′s. Hilariously though, someone along the way screwed up big time and they accidentally trademarked the actually meaningless phrase “Cuum Est” instead. FOUR TIMES.

A writer on the UBC Wiki sums it up best: “The currently used trademarks, however, do not say TUUM EST but CUUM EST, as reflected in the many trademark entries [1],[2],[3],[4] in the trademark database of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. The index headings, which “identify all word components of the trade-mark,” clearly identify the inscription as “CUUM EST”, not “TUUM EST.”

Whereas Tuum Est is often translated as “It is yours” or “It is up to you”, Cuum Est has no apparent meaning in latin. While there’s no way of knowing how or why the mistake was made, the confusion would appear to arise from obtaining a trademark on the original UBC logo, described in the Ubyssey article: “[UBC's first president Frank] Wesbrook based the UBC crest on B.C.’s coat of arms; he replaced the Union Jack with an open book and the province’s motto with UBC’s Tuum Est.” (It’s worth noting that by trademarking the UBC crest, the university is claiming ownership of a crest they freely admit is a blatant rip-off of BC’s.) Because of the highly stylized lettering, someone, somewhere along the line, probably misinterpreted the capital ‘T’ as a ‘C’.

The crest in question, from the CIPO database.

So if you’re looking for an opportunity to epically troll UBC, here’s how in 4 easy steps.

  1. Register a trademark on “Tuum Est”.
  2. Sue UBC for infingement.
  3. ??????
  4. Profit!

Edit on July 20, 2012: UBC’s response

UBC has not registered the word mark “TUUM EST” but rather four design marks in which the word component “TUUM EST” forms part of these marks. The index headings to which the blogger is referring to are generated by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) and not by the holder of the marks (UBC). UBC does not have control over what CIPO generates. The purpose of these index headings is to create searchable fields within CIPO’s Trade-marks database through which users can search for marks. The stylized lettering was likely misinterpreted by CIPO to read “CUUM” as opposed to “TUUM”. We have instructed our trademark agent to inform CIPO of their error. Whether CIPO corrects their index headings or not, the actual marks we hold are and always have been correct.


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