J&J Sues Red Cross
August 9, 2007 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Johnson & Johnson is suing the American Red Cross for trademark infringement. It contends that the Red Cross is supposed to use the symbol only in connection with non-profit relief services. "For a multibillion-dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute … simply so that J&J can make more money, is obscene," said Mark Everson, the Red Cross president. Everson is paid $500,000 per year, more than triple his previous salary as IRS Commissioner. The suit asks the Red Cross to turn over the products in question to New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson for destruction and also seeks unspecified punitive damages.
posted by Kirth Gerson (94 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
"Johnson & Johnson began using the red cross design as a trademark in 1887 — six years after the creation of the American Red Cross but before it received its congressional charter in 1900."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:52 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


JNJ Contact Page
posted by Debaser626 at 10:59 AM on August 9, 2007


Dicks.
posted by Artw at 10:59 AM on August 9, 2007


I don't get what this guy's salary has to do with the fact that his organization is getting sued.

But this is a pretty dumb lawsuit. It's hard to find a more undeserving defendant than the Red Cross. Well, unless you got blood tainted with Hepatitis C in Canada. Then you can sue the Red Cross.
posted by GuyZero at 10:59 AM on August 9, 2007


The Red Cross sells stuff commercially? Wow. I don't blame J&J for being seriously annoyed. When the head guy is making over $500k a year, you have to wonder how much is going toward the "non-profit relief services" these days.
posted by misha at 11:01 AM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Wait, the guy running the Red Cross is being paid?!?

Sue the hell out of them!
posted by Bromius at 11:01 AM on August 9, 2007


...there are no courses in college on how to be a hard-working and productive rich person. It's something you've got to figure out for yourself." -- Jamie Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune and "Born Rich" director.

This 2003 Sundance Film Festival selection takes a true insiders' look at the privileges and burdens, of being born rich.
posted by four panels at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2007


This looks super-bad for J&J.

All the Red Cross has to do is put out press releases about how J&J is suing the Red Cross for using a red cross, and they'll win in the court of public opinion. Kiss that goodwill goodbye, bitches.
posted by bshort at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2007


Oh, and I think the salary is relevant in light of the statement that the Red Cross is operating under a "budget deficit."
posted by misha at 11:03 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


OMG People who run big serious organisations get paid a lot of money!
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on August 9, 2007


Makes no sense. Johnson & Johnson can only benefit from their perceived association with the Red Cross.
posted by interrobang at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


When the head guy is making over $500k a year

I may be by myself here, but I think that's a reasonable salary for running such a huge organization.

From a news article:

The median compensation for chief executives [of non-profits] was $327,575, based on information from 241 organizations that provided data for both years. In 2004, the median salary was $316,058.
posted by vacapinta at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


OMG big serious corporations who breach legal agreements get sued
posted by patricio at 11:07 AM on August 9, 2007


I'm not one for big fat ridiculous salaries, but 500k doesn't seem like a lot to me for such a big organisation -- surely to attract the kind of people experienced in running an organisation of that size, they'd have to at least get near a private executive salary?
posted by ukdanae at 11:08 AM on August 9, 2007


Playing devil's advocate here, didn't the Red Cross try to sue a bunch of video game companies a while back for using their symbol on "health packs" and the like?

That either group can claim ownership of a geometric symbol is fucking astounding. What makes it a valid claim? The color or the shape or both? Has the circle been copyrighted yet?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:10 AM on August 9, 2007


From today's NYT:

"Joshua Normal, who blogs at his site Kimokawaii, looked for “more than just an emotional angle” in his post, headlined “Bad PR, but possibly justified legally". He points out the recent move by the Red Cross that prompted the suit: licensing the symbol to commercial partners who sell their products at retail stores. More from Mr. Normal:

If they win, it will be a PR nightmare costing them millions to try and recover from. If they lose, then one of the most recognized symbols in the world will become fair game for anyone’s use. It will be interesting to see how this whole mess plays out.
"
posted by rtha at 11:11 AM on August 9, 2007


I wonder if J&J would even be using a red cross if it wasn't for the Red Cross. The joys of IP never cease to amuse, confuse, and reuse.
posted by infowar at 11:13 AM on August 9, 2007


XQUZYPHR: Yes, the American Red Cross has been fairly aggressive in protecting the Red Cross symbol trademark.
posted by jca at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2007


A least the children who won't get blood transfusions as a result of this lawsuit won't cry while their hair is washed.
posted by srboisvert at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2007 [5 favorites]


Has the circle been copyrighted yet?

Don't even think of it, bub.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:19 AM on August 9, 2007


The issue of Everson's salary, as well as his previous inexperience with charity organizations and his election of an ombudsman with whom he was aligned in the past, has come up among charity insiders:

Interview with Everson

While it may be ill-advised, even PR suicide, for J&J to file this suit, why has the Red Cross started selling these items commercially?
posted by misha at 11:20 AM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


The suit asks the Red Cross to turn over the products in question to New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson for destruction

Yeah, because destroying them makes a lot more sense than un-branding them and distributing the products, for free, to people who could really use them.

That's some great PR planning right there.
posted by quin at 11:20 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm waiting for Switzerland to kick all their butts.
posted by ardgedee at 11:21 AM on August 9, 2007 [6 favorites]


Wasn't Red Cross just suing people for using their ubiquitous logo a few months back?
posted by smackwich at 11:22 AM on August 9, 2007


"After more than a century of strong cooperation in the use of the Red Cross trademark. … we were very disappointed to find that the American Red Cross started a campaign to license the trademark to several businesses for commercial purposes," Johnson & Johnson said in a statement.

That does seem like over-reaching for a non-profit entity, to me.
posted by misha at 11:23 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


The evil of big pharma
posted by Artw at 11:23 AM on August 9, 2007


I was a red cross volunteer during Katrina, and have a nifty red cross debit card as a souvenir. I witnessed firsthand the Red Cross' tenuous balance between being super frugal with its endowment funds and getting aid and aid workers where they're needed in good condition at whatever expense. My job for them was writing checks in Mobile, and the only thing we were using to determine the amount was how many people were in the household, with no verification required. The amount on the debit card and the cost of my flight out and hotel room (yes, we had waterfront hotel rooms in Pensacola, because that was what was available) was less in total than some of those checks. The Red Cross dumped more money into the Mobile economy in a day than the CEO makes.

The American Red Cross is operating on a deficit because of Katrina, and they got bailouts because banks know they're good for the money. People will continue to donate and refill those coffers in time for the next huge disaster that knocks every governmental body and aid organization off its feet even if people know that such a disaster may cause the RC to hemorrage money a little bit.

I would like to not turn this into a "Teh Red Cross Sux" thread.

I find it interesting that we're seeing one of the most goodwill dependent for-profit companies (No More Tears, anyone?) against the most goodwill-dependent non-profits.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:23 AM on August 9, 2007 [9 favorites]


What products are we talking about here? I haven't seen any examples given in any of these articles. Bandages?
posted by Flashman at 11:23 AM on August 9, 2007


Oh, and the International Herald Tribune has these points, which were left off of the Washington Post article:

"Johnson & Johnson noted that it had contributed $5 million (€3.62 million) over the past three years to the Red Cross and will continue to make donations.

The company also said that it had offered to engage in third-party mediation to resolve the dispute, but that the Red Cross declined."
posted by misha at 11:25 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


If they win, it will be a PR nightmare costing them millions to try and recover from. If they lose, then one of the most recognized symbols in the world will become fair game for anyone’s use. It will be interesting to see how this whole mess plays out."

Which is exactly my point- if there's a better example of dissolution of trademark I'm anxious to see it. Not the, but a- any- red cross shape is synonymous with medicine. It's not like the Golden Arches being synonymous with the McDonald's company- this isn't a logo, it's iconography, like a stop sign or the no smoking symbol.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:27 AM on August 9, 2007


Unlike other forms of intellectual property, one does have to use and defend a trademark in order to keep it.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:28 AM on August 9, 2007


If they can't use a red cross, perhaps they'd like to choose a new symbol from some other popular belief icons.
posted by mosk at 11:28 AM on August 9, 2007


Wait, so all those naughty-nurse fetish outfits are pirated knockoffs?
posted by mwhybark at 11:30 AM on August 9, 2007


From rhta's link:

Johnson & Johnson owns the trademark for the red cross. They chartered the symbol’s use to the Red Cross Organization for non-profit use. The RCO has recently started licensing the Red Cross emblem to other companies. Basically what this lawsuit is over is not RCO’s use of the Red Cross, but their licensing of the symbol which they didn’t own the trademark on to other companies.

Shouldn't they be suing the companies using the symbol directly?
posted by cillit bang at 11:32 AM on August 9, 2007


Hmm...

The Red Cross emblem was officially approved in Geneva in 1864, a year after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded.

Johnson & Johnson began using the red cross design as a trademark in 1887 — six years after the creation of the American Red Cross but before it received its congressional charter in 1900.

So what here makes J&J better than patent trolls or domain squatters? It's all very stinky if you ask me.
posted by Artw at 11:32 AM on August 9, 2007


"For a multibillion-dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute … simply so that J&J can make more money, is obscene," said Mark Everson, the Red Cross president. Everson is paid $500,000 per year, more than triple his previous salary as IRS Commissioner.

Actually, hang on a second. I'm properly pissed here.

Kirth, are you attempting to imply that his income is obscene? Based on my testimony above, a good commissioner and an overhaul is well needed and if that figure is an investment in someone who can streamline the disaster relief process and make it cheaper, it's a great investment. The work the Red Cross can do, flying thousands of n00b workers in, training us and debriefing us in an empty K-Mart in Montgomery, hundreds at a time, and deploying us throughout the south by varied means, is a logistical paragon.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:33 AM on August 9, 2007


Since ARC is a licensee already, isn't there's zero chance of J&J losing the trademark for failure to defend?
posted by nomisxid at 11:35 AM on August 9, 2007


***INTERNAL JOHNSON FAMILY INC MEMO***
Not for distribution


Dear Marketing Department:

In an effort to prevent the wanton distribution of $4.99 First Aid Kits that some camper somewhere might confuse as being a J&J product, we are going to undo your entire efforts and nullify your collective budget for the last 10 years with one lawsuit.

Best wishes,

Legal Dept.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:36 AM on August 9, 2007 [6 favorites]


OMG I'm so clever nothing ever surprises me
posted by basicchannel at 11:36 AM on August 9, 2007


As a Floridian and hurricane victim myself, I know first-hand the good the Red Cross does.

This is not about "teh Red Cross Sux". Rather, it is about questioning a specific situation that was so volatile it gave rise to a lawsuit by a company that has to know how bad it will look simply by raising the issue.

One should not unilaterally accept every action a charity makes because in the past, or under different leadership, it did good work.

As an example: many companies where I live support the United Way as their charity of choice, and employees were not just encouraged, but expected to give money to the charity, up until the United Way scandal broke.
posted by misha at 11:37 AM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ugh, what a bunch of bloodsuckers.
posted by phatkitten at 11:37 AM on August 9, 2007


Oh, and I think the salary is relevant in light of the statement that the Red Cross is operating under a "budget deficit."

Well, you are one awesome mind-reader and I am not, because I didn't see that in the post. I would personally appreciate some context for these non-sequitors.

While it may be ill-advised, even PR suicide, for J&J to file this suit, why has the Red Cross started selling these items commercially?

Now, this is something interesting. Commercial activity by a non-profit entity that steps onto an established company's legal trade dress.

The OP is not much more than a one-link newsfilter, but this background brings alot more depth to the story.
posted by GuyZero at 11:44 AM on August 9, 2007


Hmm... not actually related but a little weird: http://boycottjohnsonandjohnson.blogspot.com/

We should boycott them.... because they support smoking bans? WTF?
posted by Artw at 11:45 AM on August 9, 2007


Commercial activity by a non-profit entity that steps onto an established company's legal trade dress.

I'm still kind of curious as to how it ened up being an established company's legal trade dress, it being the international sign for medical aid organisations at the time. Google is giving me nothing - anyone?
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on August 9, 2007


Everson is paid $500,000 per year
I wonder what the head of J & J is able to clear as a meager annual salary - what with his company being so ruthlessly undercut by these non-profit hooligans?
posted by Tbola at 11:49 AM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Guyzero, from the second link the OP put up, "Internally, Everson will have his hands full with management challenges. He said the Red Cross has an operational deficit." Also, the link for the interview with Everson, which I posted further down the thread, goes into more detail.
posted by misha at 11:53 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


And people thought Procter and Gamble were satanic.
posted by kimota at 11:56 AM on August 9, 2007


Has someone trademarked the Christian Cross? Does the Catholic Church "own" it?

What about the cross with Jesus still attached?

What about the proper title Holy Bible?

If not, can I? If not, then why not? It appears that the fact that a symbol is in common usage, even internationally recognized, doesn't prevent it from being trademarked.

An envelope seems to be the universal symbol for e-mail. Can I get in on that too?
posted by Ynoxas at 11:58 AM on August 9, 2007


No, Voyeur. I did not intend to call anything obscene. I did think it worthwhile putting the man in context. I am glad you felt that you and ARC did good work, and I am not challenging that. I also did not intend for this to be a bash-the-Red-Cross thread.

However, not everyone is satisfied with the effort. The charity has repeatedly been criticized for its large operating overhead and alleged inefficiency. The organization has a history of collecting far more money than it delivers to disaster victims.
Please also note that the charity receives large sums from the government for its services; it's not wholly dependent on individual donations.

All in all, I don't think either side of the lawsuit is pure of heart.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:00 PM on August 9, 2007


American Red Cross Charity Navigator Rating page. For yr 06 - 05 ...

Jack McGuire Chief Executive Officer $416,010 0.01% (as % of expenses)
posted by R. Mutt at 12:02 PM on August 9, 2007


GuyZero, that background is in the first link.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:03 PM on August 9, 2007


Also GuyZero, the deficit is mentioned in the first sentence of the second link in my not much more than a one-link newsfilter post.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:09 PM on August 9, 2007


Link to the actual complaint (scroll down to end of article) in the Washington Post.

From the actual complaint for those that can't open .doc (or don't want to bother):
19. On January 5, 1905, the United States Congress enacted a statute, now codified in 18 U.S.C. § 706, which prohibits the use of “the emblem of the Greek red cross on a white ground,” by any “corporation, association or person, other than the American National Red Cross and its duly authorized employees and agents and the sanitary and hospital authorities of the armed forces of the United States.” The statute further provides, “This section shall not make unlawful the use of any such emblem, sign, insignia, or words which was lawful on the date of enactment of this title.” Because Johnson & Johnson had been using its Red Cross Design on the date of enactment of the statute in 1905, Plaintiffs’ use of the Red Cross Design is not prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 706....

21. In January 1895, Johnson & Johnson and the ARC entered into an agreement that acknowledges Johnson & Johnson’s “exclusive use of a red cross as a trademark and otherwise for chemical, surgical, pharmaceutical goods of every description.” Clara Barton executed that agreement on behalf of the ARC.
posted by misha at 12:10 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


As the article pointed out, the issue concerns ARC licensing it's cross + typeset to competitors of J&J. Bandages, first aid kits, etc. (Nail clippers and combs seem a bit of a stretch for relief kits, don't they?)

Ultimately, the credibility of ARC's brand would pull people towards its "blessed" products, and thus damage J&J's revenue.

It's interesting because it's involved at the highest levels of perceived brand equity and impulse to buy. Potential millions, certainly. But I don't think it'll be a fight to the (legal) death by either party — J&J may just be angling to be the sole providers of said merchandise or some such.

ARC, like most charities, had an incredible, record-setting year for donor contributions post 9/11 and during Katrina — barring another disaster, their revenue will remain flat for the foreseeable future because disaster donors don't convert to long term sustainers. So initiatives like the brand licensing is becoming a more common move for charitable orgs.
posted by Haruspex at 12:14 PM on August 9, 2007


are not is, dammit.
posted by Haruspex at 12:18 PM on August 9, 2007


No doubt the former IRS commissioner would be better off working as a high-paid lobbyist making millions of dollars a year, but instead he's running the redcross for half a million dollars a year. And if he was, no one could call him a hypocrite.

But instead he's working for a chartable organization and not doing it for free. Because god forbid someone who helps other people should be remunerated at all. That's just hypocritical by definition. If he were working to help the rich, why, that would be totally consistent, and thus much better for the world.

Just like John Edwards with his $400 haircut. Total hypocrite. Meanwhile Mitt Romney spends thousands on beauty products and haircare, but that's totally fine because he's not even pretending to care about the poor. Totally consistent on his part.

Now, for every dollar that the red cross takes in 98¢ goes toward disaster relief. It's actually extremely efficient for a charity organisation
posted by delmoi at 12:35 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


interrobang writes "Makes no sense. Johnson & Johnson can only benefit from their perceived association with the Red Cross."

This is classic brand dilution. If you have two companies identifying their products with the same emblems consumers are going to get confused. If the second company makes an inferior product that can harm the quality perception of the products distributed by the first company. Essentially a classic example of why we have trademark law in the first place.

Artw writes "what here makes J&J better than patent trolls or domain squatters?"

On the face of it J&J has an established trademark (over a hundred years) using the cross to sell medical supplies. Now the ARC has decided to enter the same business (through a proxy) using the same symbol. I'm having a hard time seeing why J&J is the bad guy here.
posted by Mitheral at 12:38 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


(oops, according to R.Mutt's link it's actually 91¢ per dollar)
posted by delmoi at 12:39 PM on August 9, 2007


As far as the trademark problem, the RC has a couple other symbols it has exclusive access too, namely the red crescent, the red lion symbol and the red diamond.
posted by delmoi at 12:40 PM on August 9, 2007


William C. Weldon
Chief Executive Officer
Johnson & Johnson

According to the SEC (2006): $28,557,749 in total compensation
via
posted by uri at 12:48 PM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm with Mitheral on this one. ARC entered into an agreement with J&J and now they are reneging on it.
posted by misha at 12:48 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


What products are we talking about here? I haven't seen any examples given in any of these articles. Bandages?

I guess they're going to have to scrap their plan of selling marital aides. (Or, as they're known in the field, "relief kits.")
So much for the new line of Red Cross Johnsons™.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:54 PM on August 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


delmoi wrote:
But instead he's working for a chartable organization and not doing it for free. Because god forbid someone who helps other people should be remunerated at all. That's just hypocritical by definition. If he were working to help the rich, why, that would be totally consistent, and thus much better for the world.

What on Earth are you going on about? Did someone other than your sarcastic self suggest any of those things?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:08 PM on August 9, 2007


ARC could always switch to using one of the other emblems used by the international organization, e.g., a Red Crescent or Red Crystal.
posted by mrbill at 1:09 PM on August 9, 2007


$500,000k per year? Pssht. There are hobos who are starving on that much. There are high school kids for whom that is their allowance. It's NOTHING nowadays, NOTHING. There are monthly cell phone bills that cost more. I saw a chia pet last month priced at $500 k.

You're not a decent millionaire nowadays unless you're a billionaire.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:22 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree, $500,000 to head the entire fucking Red Cross? I have a pretty stressful job and am well paid for it but I cannot *imagine* the stress you'd be under as head of the Red Cross when a major American city is destroyed. Can you imagine the kind of incompetent bozo you'd have working if you didn't at least throw them something competitive.

The mention of the salary in the OP is troll-ey.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:45 PM on August 9, 2007


Oh, I see Astro Zombie is being sarcastic. Is he always like that?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:47 PM on August 9, 2007


No. Sometimes he's just cynical.
posted by Floydd at 1:58 PM on August 9, 2007


I am assuming J&J and ARC actually spoke to each before just wildly throwing law suits around which suggests that they couldn't come to some sort of agreement regarding use of the trademark.

Either the ARC have gone "screw you guys, we want all the money we can get!" or J&J have gone "screw you guys we want all the money we can get!"

Ideally they would enter into some sort of branding and profit sharing agreement for some ARC branded product line for which 50% of the profits would be given to the ARC. Perhaps with ARC paying the marketing fees (and some minimum amount therof) to promote sales of the products.

Basically we can't tell who's been a cock here, unless we have the details of any meetings - or lack of - that ocurred between ARC and J&J.
posted by public at 2:42 PM on August 9, 2007


Now or in the 19th century? Or both?
posted by Artw at 3:43 PM on August 9, 2007


$500,000 to head the entire fucking Red Cross? I have a pretty stressful job and am well paid for it but I cannot *imagine* the stress you'd be under as head of the Red Cross when a major American city is destroyed.

Hey, being President of the U.S. is probably even more stressful, and he only gets $400,000.

Can you imagine the kind of incompetent bozo you'd have working if you didn't at least throw them something competitive.

Hmmm, with that in mind, maybe we should have been paying the President a bit more.
posted by grouse at 3:53 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


[b]public[/b], one of the links above has the Johnson & Johnson rep stating that the lawsuit was a last resort after negotiations and an offer to work with a mediator failed. Take it for what it's worth.

and people going into lobbying from government work are typically banking off of their government connections; they wouldn't be able to get those lucrative jobs if it wasn't for the fact that they worked in government.
posted by Challahtronix at 3:58 PM on August 9, 2007


ugh, public. Sorry about that.
posted by Challahtronix at 4:00 PM on August 9, 2007


I can't believe that I'm defending a large company but... J&J has a long history of philanthropy. J&J's corporate management is not stupid and they must have tried everything to avoid this lawsuit. It looks to me like the Red Cross is clearly violating an agreement they had made with J&J. A consumer products company's most valuable assets are it's brands and it's distribution network and the Red Cross is threatening J&J's brand identity. J&J has to sue even though it looks horrible.
posted by rdr at 4:43 PM on August 9, 2007


Ynoxas: It appears that the fact that a symbol is in common usage, even internationally recognized, doesn't prevent it from being trademarked. An envelope seems to be the universal symbol for e-mail. Can I get in on that too?...Has someone trademarked the Christian Cross? Does the Catholic Church "own" it?


Tons of registered trademarks already incorporate common symbols. Countless trademarks already “claim” just about every sign and geometric element we could imagine, starting with “orange stars, yellow moons, pink hearts, green clovers, and blue diamonds.” The most stereotypically loathsome corporations may indeed be the evil gluttons that the most stereotypically reactionary hacky-sackers claim them to be. But let’s not panic about crosses and triangles and the international sign for men’s rooms becoming commandeered by private interests just yet, because that’s really unlikely to happen. A graphic element’s adoption as a commercial trademark does not (and, in fact, cannot) steal this element from the public domain. Because the entire point of trademark law is consumer impression, the ultimate answer to what a trademark is--and what a trademark can be--is an elegant and democratic one: A trademark is anything that consumers (of a particular type of goods or services) think is a trademark. If the public thinks that a talking lizard with a Cockney accent relates to car insurance, then this designation is a trademark, and as long as the public maintains this perception (talking Brit lizard = car insurance) it is true that the public will be enjoined from marketing auto insurance in conjunction with a talking Brit lizard (although this to me seems hardly an abridgment of rights or freedoms.) Meanwhile, if the public continues to widely associate the tiny envelope symbol with “email,” in general, then this little envelope symbol is not a trademark and we will all be able to check our email and liberally enjoy ampersands and use the toilet without violating trademark law.

It’s also not a zero-sum game. Any trademark, whether elaborately fanciful or built from common elements, can only be used to prevent competitors from using a similar trademark in conjunction with similar goods or services. This is why Pepsi’s circular red, white and blue logo is not infringed by the visually analogous logo of Korean Air, and why we can all still enjoy our yin-yang symbols without getting cease and desist letters from either company. A symbol can be a trademark for one specific purpose, and remain in the public domain for all other uses.

...As for your intentionally facecious example of trademarking the Christian cross: ...well, if it's for alcoholic beverages you’d be too late, since the cross symbol has long been a component of Jägermeister’s registered trademark, and yet that same cross remains a potent symbol (some might say cudgel) of chastity and temperance to vast legions of people who spend their Sunday mornings in church, rather than wandering through the Sig Chi house with a blinding hangover looking for their underwear.

p.s. I don’t mean to sound snarky or pedantic in the slightest. This post just triggered my #1 favorite topic... (That in itself may be kind of sad, I know.)
posted by applemeat at 5:25 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


The Red Cross sells stuff commercially? Wow. I don't blame J&J for being seriously annoyed. When the head guy is making over $500k a year, you have to wonder how much is going toward the "non-profit relief services" these days.

Okay. where do we start.

Yes-- every not for profit maximizes every revenue stream.

What should the head guy make, $80,000 per year? $25,000? How low would to satisfy your moral outrage? To run a multi-national, major NGO that is THE agency for disaster relief worldwide? Nah-- people of this calibre should be willing to starve for the cause while we send everyone qualified to work for major corporations and lobbying firms and let the NGOs settle for talentless has beens with no qualifications. I don't usually get personal here but misha, your comment is just beyond stupid.
posted by nax at 5:54 PM on August 9, 2007


grouse writes "Hey, being President of the U.S. is probably even more stressful, and he only gets $400,000."

You forgot his expense accounts: "a $50,000 expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment"

How much do you suppose rent on a pad like the white house plus all the salaries of the people working there is worth (chefs, house keepers, gaurds, gardeners, handy men, etc. etc.)? Even if you discount it 75% for the business that goes down there it's still quite the perk. Add in Air Force One, the summer place at Camp David, the fighter plane rides on to air craft carriers and you have significant compensation.

Then there is the pension of $183,500 a year (not bad when you only need 4 years to vest), and you get a free office and staff for 4.5 years after your term.

Plus if you qualify for a congressional pension you can collect that too.
posted by Mitheral at 6:00 PM on August 9, 2007


Delmoi, 91% of the Red Cross' income goes to program services not disaster relief (at least according to the 2005 form 990). About 1 billion of the program service expenses are salary. Disaster services spending in 2005 was 383 million including associated salaries, or about 9.8% of total revenue. Biomedical services were 2.1 billion (including associated salaries).
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:42 PM on August 9, 2007


I think J&J would have been better off changing their trademark to a red swastika than pursuing this lawsuit, but I suspect the ARC is actually the bad guy here.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:43 PM on August 9, 2007


To run a multi-national, major NGO that is THE agency for disaster relief worldwide?

You do realize we're talking about the American Red Cross, right?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:49 PM on August 9, 2007


From a newsletter on the products licensed from April 2006:

The American Red Cross is launching a licensing initiative that includes both safety-oriented products and affinity merchandise meant to let consumers express their support for the disaster relief agency, while at the same time helps fund the organization's efforts.

Currently, the organization is in discussions or seeking licensing partners for additional everyday safety, wellness and preparedness products, such as safety lighting, flashlights and nightlights, home health aids, interactive games and educational toys, roadside safety products, and sun care and aquatic safety items and apparel.

posted by infini at 8:22 PM on August 9, 2007


From today's Marketplace:

Trademark law expert Michael Froomkin at the University of Miami says Johnson & Johnson has a pretty good case.

Michael Froomkin: I mean it seems really weird to be defending the multibillion-dollar conglomerate against the nice guys of the Red Cross, but again if what's in the complaint is true, they've got a point.

Froomkin says Johnson & Johnson had no choice but to act.

Froomkin: With trademark law, if you let the camel's nose get under the tent, pretty soon you don't even own the tent anymore.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:48 PM on August 9, 2007


I'm having a hard time seeing why J&J is the bad guy here.

OK, great, I'm here to help. *clap*

Established trademark law artificially empowers legal rights-holders at the expense of others with valid claims not grounded in capital acquisition and exchange. Furthermore, rights to a symbol are a set of conventions designed to create artificial barriers to trade and expression.

You and I personally benefit in some ways from this set of conventions, but we would benefit more if the Red Cross were able to profit as handsomely as Johnson and Johnson has due to the use of the specific symbol at hand. Got that?

Here, let me clarify: business law is designed to protect them what's got from them what's not. The Red Cross is about helping them what's not; J&J is a paragon of them what's got.

If you really believe that them what's got are the good guys, well, you might be cut out for a career as a lawyer. The rest of us disagree.
posted by mwhybark at 10:27 PM on August 9, 2007


Well, I understand J&J's position here. Sounds legal as church on Sunday. The PR problem is equally clear. OUCH!

However, what puzzles me the most: How much does J&J still do, today, that involves their red cross trademark? I haven't noticed it in quite a few years. (but then, I've been living abroad for nearly 10 years).

As for all those yammering about 'big pharma", perhaps you should inform before using that to describe J&J. Pharma is only 1 of their three large sectors, which include consumer goods (Band Aids, now Listerine, Reach, Neutragena, Johnson's Baby, etc), and medical devices (surgical equipement etc).

And then there is J&J's responsibility to stock holders. The stock price has been quite flat for an embarassing long time, quite contrary to historical performance. Failure to defend a trade mark could provoke some stock holder reaction, under such circumstances.
posted by Goofyy at 3:30 AM on August 10, 2007


mwhybark writes "business law is designed to protect them what's got from them what's not. "

Trademark law is as much about protecting the public as it is about helping businesses.

thecourt.ca: The focus of trademark law is consumer protection. The trademark owner, by appropriating from the common stock of words and images in the public domain, is entitled to protection only to the extent necessary to protect the public from confusion with other wares or services but no further. Otherwise, the public would be deprived of its rightful use of the commons without reason.

Two companies both using the same symbol to identify themselves on the same product is practically guaranteed to create confusion. This isn't even some sort of edge case in some way, at least from the information linked. I'd bet the ARC settles out of court. They were probably depending on J&J not suing because of the bad publicity and now that J&J have pulled the trigger on that they appear to have little chance of winning.
posted by Mitheral at 3:47 AM on August 10, 2007


nax, it's not the IRC, it's just the American Red Cross.

Furthermore, we aren't talking some little .org/store, like you linked to. The ARC is selling out, to four different conglomerates, the right to use the cross symbol for commercial purposes.

I don't have moral outrage about a $500,000 salary for the CEO of a non-profit. Never said I did. I just said that when that company is already acting under an operational deficit, you have to question how much money is actually going to relief efforts as opposed to operational expenses.

Try reading the links AND the comments before you launch your personal attacks.
posted by misha at 11:03 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I’m waiting for the Knights Templar to kick all their butts.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:08 PM on August 10, 2007


You get bad press for suing a charity. Who's to say the charity doesn't take advantage of that?
posted by smackfu at 2:27 PM on August 10, 2007


Sometimes what's legal isn't really what's right. I know that right and wrong are highly subjective, but why couldn't it have gone like this:

J&J: Hey, Red Cross, we noticed that your selling shit with a logo that infringes on our trademark. Once you sell out of what you've got, please use a different logo.

ARC: But, we want to use the logo. It's, um, the Red Cross logo, you know, a Red Cross...

J&J: Yeah, I see that it's a Red Cross, but we've trademarked it. Our trademarks are something we need to protect, or next thing you know, anyone can slap a red cross on something, and that thing really might look like a J&J product. We're serious about this. We'll have to sue if you don't stop using it. Catch my drift?

ARC: OK, we get it. We're going to design a new logo that has the Red Cross look, but doesn't violate your trademark. Cool?

J&J: Cool.

I think this is a much better way of working things out. The lawyers still paid, but our tax dollars aren't going toward refereeing a couple of big corps. equivalent of kids arguing in the back seat spat in the court system.

Alternatively, they could settle it in a duel.
posted by altcountryman at 8:17 AM on August 11, 2007


Kirth Gersen and misha:

Thanks for the corrections. My factual errors are inexcusable, if for no other reason than that they distracted from my point (as well as evidencing my sloppy thinking) and misha I apologize for the personal remark--it was out of line.

However, I stand by my main point that high salaries in and of themselves should not be taken as a sign of profligacy or mismanagement in not-for-profit organizations. Any organization the size and scope of the ARC is going to need someone with the credentials and background that warrant a high salary. I have worked in nfp all my adult life and absolutely see red (hence the out-of-line remark) when I hear these kinds of assumptions that those of us in these fields should be slaving away for the higher purpose and that accepting a high salary is somehow suspect if not criminal.
posted by nax at 6:08 PM on August 11, 2007


You're reading an awful lot into my making note of the guy's salary, nax.

Anyway, let's look at the argument that a big, complex organization, needs to pay a lot of money to attract a competent leader. The average governor of a U.S. state gets paid $124,398 a year. The highest-paid governor, Schwarzenegger, gets $206,500 (and gives it back). NY's Spitzer keeps his $179,000; everyone else gets less. Is it easier to govern New York or California (or the U.S.) than the ARC?

Now let's look at the argument that the big, complex organization needs some one with high-level background and credentials. Did you know that Everson's lack of any experience in NFPs caused some criticism?
Other critics have wondered if Mr. Everson is ill-suited to run the Red Cross because he lacks experience leading a nonprofit group; before working at the IRS, he held positions in the federal Office of Management and Budget and was the vice president of a food-services company in Dallas.
In his response, Everson says the IRS and the Red Cross are "actually quite similar." I hope he's wrong about that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:10 PM on August 11, 2007


As I said, the salary ALONE should not be taken as evidence of mismanagement of profligacy. If there are other things going on, if his resume or output doesn't warrant the pay, then the board of directors needs to step in. Your mention of the salary seems to be calculated to trigger a gut-level response that these guys are all crooks and opportunists. I agree that there is a certain amount of irony that Everson goes on about cutting costs while accepting this high salary, but despite your apples-and-oranges comparison to governors' salaries I still don't see the salary as out of line with the size of the organization, or how it all relates to the lawsuit.

In fact, I see the lawsuit as the more interesting discussion here, so let's bring it back. Here I have less of a soapbox to stand on, and no personal experience (as said, I work in nonprofit, although not nearly at this scale). It basically looks like a soulless corporation (J&J) up against a soulless nfp (ARC) duking it out over who gets to exploit a beloved symbol.

Also, I am not a politically-oriented person and getting into it with the geniuses at MeFi is scaring me!
posted by nax at 8:14 PM on August 11, 2007


altcountryman, J&J claims that they asked ARC to enter mediation (where something like your scenario might have happened) but that ARC refused. If this is true, then I imagine that ARC assumed that J&J wouldn't have the guts to sue them and risk the bad PR. Looks like they were wrong.
posted by grouse at 1:25 AM on August 12, 2007


It basically looks like a soulless corporation (J&J) up against a soulless nfp (ARC) duking it out over who gets to exploit a beloved symbol.

That's how it looks to me, too.

Everson's refusal to negotiate with J&J has overtones of the Administration he just left.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:28 AM on August 12, 2007


« Older The British Transform Drug Policy Foundation has r...  |  Excellent BBC Brain Story seri... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments