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Licensing Fee Would Increase Ring Prices

By May K. Tse

Every year, the sophomore class celebrates its new design of the Brass Rat, the class ring that symbolizes MIT pride. But with the threat of an added licensing fee for use of the MIT name, the cost of this school spirit may increase for future classes.

Last fall, the Technology Licensing Office stated that "effective July 1, there will be a 7.5 percent licensing fee on all class rings," said Heather C. Mapstone, licensing associate in the TLO.

MIT's licensing program originally targeted items such as T-shirts, but "now we're at a point where we're pulling rings into the program," Mapstone said.

The revenue from the new fee - estimated at about $20,000 - will be split between trademark costs, a TLO 15 percent royalty, and the Student Financial Aid Office, Mapstone said.

TLOhas agreed to postpone the fee until next fall,said Geoffrey Coram G, a member of the Graduate Student Council ring committee. The main reason was that the price list had already entered circulation before the decision, he said.

News of the licensing fee has prompted negative reaction from students.

"We shouldn't place a surcharge on an item available only to MITstudents,"said sophomore ring committee member John Gavenonis '98. "I don't see the purpose of effectively taxing students who are also paying MITtuition."

"We feel that the MIT class ring, as a tradition since 1929, should be immune from administrative regulation which might dampen Brass Rat popularity," said Daniel A. Freedman '98, chair of the sophomore ring committee.

Graduate student rings cost more

Pricing issues have also upset graduate students who pay up to twice as much for their class ring.

Prices for the Class of 1998 ring range from $181 to $375, while graduate class rings range from $320 to $775.

Several factors determine the price discrepancy, according to the sophomore ring committee.

First, the graduate ring is exclusively contracted with Jostens, while the undergraduate ring production receives annual bids from competing companies.

For the undergraduate rings, the companies need to offer fairly low prices in order to stay competitive. "Price isn't a main concern to us because companies all bid within a few percent of each other,"said Gavenonis.

Another reason for the differences in price is the fact that "graduate rings are sold through [the Harvard Cooperative Society], while the undergraduates eliminate the middleman,"said Robert Quinn, a representative from Jostens.

90 percent buy Brass Rats

"For some reason, engineers buy more rings than any other major in the country," Quinn said. "MIT's tradition is rare. On the average, about 8 percent of the population at other schools will buy rings. At MIT, it's about 90 percent."

Because the Brass Rat is so popular among undergraduates, advertising and promotional costs run between $1,000 and $3,000, according to Quinn.

This compares to the $5,000- to $8,000-a-year for the less popular graduate ring, which bears the same design every year.

"If more people buy, we can keep the price low," Quinn explained.

Since the undergraduate ring is almost guaranteed to sell out, companies like Jostens, which won the bid last year, and Balfour, which won this year's bid, can afford to charge a lower price.

In an attempt to improve sales, graduate student rings will be sold at a discount on a trial basis, Quinn said.