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How happy is your valley? Penn State wants to trademark a nickname that can refer to a Massachusetts state of mind

We Are! Happy Valley!

No, We are Happy Valley?

If your idea of the Happy Valley is more Robert Frost and downtown Northampton than Saquon Barkley and grilled stickies, Penn State University has some news for you.

Penn State filed last month to obtain a federal trademark on the phrase “Happy Valley,” according to documents on file at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Happy Valley has been the nickname for the region around the campus in State College, Pennsylvania, since at least the 1930s, when the region, with its employment base at Penn State, escaped the Depression, according to

The “Happy Valley” nickname gets repeated every time Nittany Lions football is on TV.

But it’s also a nickname for Hampshire County, where there is a Happy Valley gift shop in Northampton, a Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra and a Happy Valley Half Marathon every October in Hadley.

“Well I certainly would object to it if it prevented us from using the name,” said Joe Ricker, musical director of the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra. “I don’t think this area has any exclusive claim to it, nor should any area.”

There are, according to Wikipedia, a total of 35 Happy Valleys around the world, including five in California and seven in very happy and apparently valley-filled Australia. There are also Happy Valleys in Oregon, Canada, New Zealand and in England, where “Happy Valley” was used ironically as the title of a gritty crime drama.

Penn State spokeswoman Rachel A. Pell wrote in an email Thursday that the Happy Valley trademark was held previously by another entity but recently became available.

“The university and local entities have been fortunate that the previous owner did not try to preclude the university and local entities ability to use the term,” she said. “There is now an opportunity to safeguard the continued future use of the term, and the university believed this was important for furtherance of its town and gown relationship. If successful with its trademark application, Penn State does not plan to charge those local entities that currently use Happy Valley on apparel.”

Pell told the Centre Daily Times that Penn State wants also to prevent the term “Happy Valley” being used to promote alcohol.

But it might be hard for Penn State, or anyone else, to get a trademark for “Happy Valley” and even harder for it to go to court and protect that trademark, said Bob Statchen, associate clinical professor of law at Western New England School of Law.

Happy Valley is a geographic description and as such it can not be trademarked, he said. Statchen pointed to “dead” trademarks for Happy Valley in the Patent and Trademark Office database. Lots of them, for restaurants and the like, were turned down for this reason.

Trademarks are strong if they are arbitrary and fanciful, he said. That means a claim on a trademark is stronger if it doesn’t strictly make sense — the weak Apple Orchard versus the strong Apple Computer, for instance — or if it is fanciful or made up, like Xerox.

And even if Penn State does get a trademark for Happy Valley, it would have to enforce the trademark. That involves going to court and getting a federal judge to agree with your ownership claim on the name.

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