It was a good try for name recognition by the National Museum of American Art -- giving free lunch to 400 cab drivers {Style, Sept. 15}, but it'll never work. When your name is confusingly similar to other names and not very distinctive, it's too hard for people to remember.

The cabbies may remember their lunch, but they still won't remember whether the museum is called the National Museum of American Art, or the National Museum of American History or the National Gallery of Art. Or the National Museum of Natural History. Or the National Gallery of Art's East Building or the National Archives. What the museum needs is a new name. Why not call it the Old Patent Office Museum of American Art?

The building housing the National Museum of American Art was designed and built to serve as the U.S. Patent Office -- a function it fulfilled from 1840 until 1932. The Old Patent Office is a registered national historic landmark.

The Old Patent Office displayed many thousands of patent models in the 19th century, in effect serving as the country's first museum of science and technology. It was a hospital during the Civil War and was the site of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural ball. Architect Philip Johnson once called it the most beautiful building in the world. It is still one of Washington's most magnificent structures.

The museum should adopt the Old Patent Office name. It is something cab drivers and the rest of us could remember, and it would reflect the heritage of the museum's wonderful building. In fact, since the Old Patent Office also houses the National Portrait Gallery, the two museums should be designated the Old Patent Office/Museum of American Art and the Old Patent Office/National Portrait Gallery.

The museum staff deserves credit for creativity, but it seems clear that where name recognition is concerned, there's still no such thing as a free lunch.


The writer is executive director of Intellectual Property Owners Inc., a nonprofit association representing patent, trade and copyright owners.