Nobel trademark infringement

12 Nov 2010 by Jim Fickett.

A descendent of Alfred Nobel characterizes the not-Nobel in economics as “an unparalleled example of successful trademark infringement”.

Probably most readers of the financial news are aware that the “Nobel prize” in economics is not a Nobel prize. However the press either doesn't understand or, in the interests of a good headline, doesn't mind the confusion. For example, when Paul Krugman was awarded the not-Nobel in 2008, Forbes wrote:

Paul Krugman, Nobel

After nearly 30 years, the Swedish Academy has returned to international trade awarding the Nobel Prize to Princeton economist Paul Krugman.

I have wondered for a long time just how this situation arose, and how far those who award the prize had gone in trying to adopt the prestige of the true Nobel prize.

Peter Nobel, a descendent of Alfred Nobel, was recently sufficiently fed up with the situation to make a public statement. The Real World Economics Blog provides an English translation. Peter Nobel feels that this is just what it seems to be – a deliberate misuse of the name Nobel and trademark infringement:

The Economics Prize in memory of Alfred Nobel … is a deceptive utilisation of the institution of the Nobel Prize and what it represents. …

The proposal of a Riksbank [central bank] prize “in memory of Alfred Nobel” was discussed by the Nobel Foundation on April 26, 1968. Professor Sten Friberg, rector of the Karolinska Institute, opposed the idea. The Nobel committee of the Norwegian parliament [which selects the peace prize candidate] expressed serious misgivings. But a rapid decision was expected, apparently under pressure. Why? Riksbanken’s chief Per Åsbrink had close contacts within the government, and for the Nobel Foundation it was vitally important to conserve its tax privileges.

… On May 10, Ståhle and the president of the Nobel Foundation, von Euler, visited the family’s eldest, Martha Nobel, then 87 years old — with severely impaired hearing but intellectually in good form. They obtained her written approval of the economics prize “under given conditions,” namely that the new prize in all official documents and statements should be kept separated from the Nobel prize, and called the “prize in economic science in memory of Alfred Nobel.” …

What has happened is an unparalleled example of successful trademark infringement. However, nobody in the world can prevent journalists, economists and the general public from talking about the “Nobel prize in economics,” with all its connotations. That is why, in the name of decency and in order to honour Alfred Nobel’s memory, this bank prize in his memory should be given on a different occasion than the Nobel day [a day of ceremonies headed by the king].

This reflects badly on the whole economics profession