March 04, 2005



The United Nations today filed suit against Harvard University for violation of The United Nations long-standing trademarks, including the United Nations name, image, and patented seating configuration. According to the office of the United Nations Secretary-General, the breach represents further encroachment upon, and potential dilution of, the United Nations as brand and global influencer, thereby reducing the organization’s effectiveness in working with sovereign nations around the world.

Named in the suit is The Media Center at The American Press Institute, Harvard University, and the President and Fellows of Harvard College. The alleged infringement took place in an online events forum for an upcoming conference: Whose News: Media, Technology and the Common Good. Organizers of the “invitation-only” event stated:

“The symposium is based on cross-sector discourse. It will be conducted U.N. style, with participants seated in a U-shaped arena for discussion. All participants will have equal standing; everyone will contribute as a witness.”

Commenting about the lawsuit, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was most concerned by the lack of inclusiveness of the closed event.

“It seems pretty lame to me that a bunch of privileged white men – okay there are some women – sitting around in a circle at Harvard would choose to use the image of the highly-inclusive United Nations to symbolize what they’re up to,” Annan said. “In fact, it’s downright fishy.”

Event organizers attempted to clarify the conference objectives:

“Will the traditions of professional journalism survive? Should they? What are the implications for society? Technology, humanity and the global datastream: What’s going on? How will it benefit society? We Media, the culture, and the common good: How we know, how we learn, how we trust in the emerging ecosystem of participatory, always-on media.”

“WTF?” Annan asked. “The global datastream?”

Many Internet pioneers who were excluded from the event also criticized its intentions.

“The thing I find most offensive is that I wasn’t invited,” said Dave Winer, who writes the well-known weblog and invented blogging in 1954. “As far as I’m concerned it’s bogus.”

Well-known and well-liked blogger David Weinberger, who is invited to everything, said it’s all about the story.

“We’ll create a story about the dialogs,” said Weinberger, Cluetrain author and long-time fan of the human conversation. “Story makers have been assigned to each of three discussions. They’ll capture the proceedings with video and still cameras, recordings and notes. Key ideas will be projected on a screen as they occur. The story makers will share their findings, follow up with participants and decide how to present the story.”

Jarvis-Rosen-Rubin-MacKinnon-Stone agreed. Annan remained skeptical.

“Look, I don’t care what they say they’re up to, but the bottom line is this: You can set your room up in a circle; you can set your room in ten circles; but if you’re exclusive of who fills them, you’re limiting what you can accomplish," Annan said. "This sure as hell ain’t the UN. Now put that in your story and blog it.”