Keeping our eyes and ears open…..

Between Right and Responsibility: The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Abusive Trademark Strategy

Title: Between Right and Responsibility: The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Abusive Trademark Strategy

Author:  Luke MacDowall

Publication: Law JournalFeeds

Publication Date: February 25, 2011

In one of his famous “Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger” segments, Stephen Colbert “tipped his hat” to the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s (“the Foundation”) recently publicized efforts to protect its trademarks.  It is not the attempt to protect its marks that has drawn mounting criticism, but rather the chosen targets of its legal actions:  other non-profit, charitable organizations dedicated to raising revenue to support medical research.  As one of the most vocal supporters of the Foundation’s efforts to find a cure for breast cancer, Colbert’s satirical gesture made headlines.  He highlighted the seemingly wasteful expense of millions of dollars in donor funds spent on protecting these trademarks each year.

Over the past fifteen years, the Foundation has reviewed eighty-three different groups who have attempted to use the phrase “for the cure” or “for a cure” and pursued legal action against half.  Anne Thompson, “Trademark protection by Susan G. Komen organization.” NBC Nightly News Transcripts, Jan. 24, 2011.  For example, the Foundation contacted the organization entitled “Kites for a Cure,” which is a kite-flier group dedicated to raising money to cure lung-cancer.  The group refused to bow-out quickly, upset over what it believed to be a misdirection of both organizations’ efforts against one another rather than on their common goal.  Eventually the two settled, with “Kites for a Cure” promising to only use the name in connection with lung-cancer activities and to refrain from using the famous pink ribbon logo.  Most recently the Foundation has targeted a smaller group called the “Mush for a Cure,” whose revenue raised since its founding 5 years ago is dwarfed by the Foundation’s annual budget.  In a statement on its website, the Mush for a Cure expressed its “surprise” and “sadness” that its application with United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark their name was being opposed by the Foundation.  The group noted that many organizations use the phrase “for a cure” to “present what [all these similar organizations] are trying to do—working together to find a cure.”  While recognizing that the Foundation has a “brand to uphold,” the group went on to note that the “frustration lies in the fact that we all share a common end goal, and the process, rules, and stipulations…doesn’t seem to reflect this.”  In the end, the opposition will end up costing the group money it “[doesn’t] have to spend.”

In response to these criticisms, the Foundation defends its action citing the need to ensure donors that when they see the “for the Cure” mark “they can be confident that they are donating to a Komen program.”  It is hard to argue with the Foundation’s financial prowess and fiscal responsibility.  The American Institute of Philanthropy rates it a “B+” for directing nearly seventy-four percent of its expenses to programs, spending on average $17 million in raising each $100 million.  In a letter released in its defense, the Foundation notes its Four-Star Charity Navigator ranking, which vaulted it into “one of the two most trusted charities last year.”  Thus, even the millions spent on defending its trademarks must be compared with the Foundation’s overall efforts; in fact, the amount spent on legal costs is a drop in the bucket compared with the $283 million spent on research and advocacy.  Anne Thompson, “Trademark protection by Susan G. Komen organization.” NBC Nightly News Transcripts, Jan. 24, 2011.

Link to Full Article

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