Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Next Frontier of Naming Rights

The receipt by substantial donors of naming rights to nonprofit-owned buildings, classrooms, and even entire schools is now so common it hardly raises any eyebrows - at least as long as the donor's reputation remains intact.  Of course, the donor always runs the risk that the named building will eventually be razed or replaced.  But the Christian Science Monitor reports on a new naming trend with greater permanency, at least unless extinction intervenes - having an entire species named after you.  The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego will now permit donors to name an as-yet unnamed ocean species in exchange for donations of various sizes - presumably set based on the attractiveness or rarity of the species involved.

As the article details, the Institution is far from alone.  In recent years there have been various auctions selling species-naming rights to raise funds for preservation and research, and Rwanda - yes, the country - annually sells the rights to name individual guerrillas.  Not that selling such rights is always been as successful as hoped.  Amphibian Ark has tried the online auction route for the right to name frog species but only received modest amounts - $5,500 last month, for example - so far.  And the practice is not without controversy among scientists, which could lead to changes in how species are named in the future.  It appears currently that the name for a newly discovered species is generally at the discretion of the discoverer.  One possible legal issue is therefore what will happen if there is some future attempt to re-organize or rationalize species names?  It is far from clear what the rights of these donors or their heirs would be, especially if the original naming institution does not control such a process.


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