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Tag Archives: trademarks

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Guest Editorial: Gayle Sulik, M.A., Ph.D., author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health.

In the last few weeks Susan G. Komen for the Cure was exposed. We have watched and listened as journalists, health advocates, philanthropists, bloggers, affiliates, Komen supporters, and countless others have shined a light on the obvious: The Komen foundation – breast cancer charity turned nonprofit corporation – is a juggernaut in the fight against breast cancer.

In the past, many have overlooked the obvious. Blinded by pink. Fueled by hope. Engaged in an emotionally charged war against a disease that no one should have to bear alone. It all made sense somehow. Critiques of the world’s largest breast cancer charity were mostly hidden beneath a barrage of pinked propaganda. When anyone openly raised concerns they were met with accusation, hostility, and anger. Komen founder Nancy Brinker summarily dismissed as curmudgeons and naysayers those who would dare to confront the authority of pink.

Though marginalized to some extent people have been, for years, arguing for fundamental changes in Komen’s version of the breast cancer paradigm. KomenWatch includes many of the arguments and concerns in its archives dating back to the 1990s. The news articles, reports, and letters from breast cancer survivors and others reveal a persistent questioning of the powerhouse organization.

In 1995 Joelyn Flomenhaft wrote a letter to The New York Times editor saying that, although she had done so in the past, she would not be attending the Komen Race for the Cure because people were being told to write their years of survivorship on pink visers and badges. “Breast cancer survivors should have the right to choose to make their illness public,” she said, “not have their choice made for them by race organizers.” Her letter suggested that while some do feel empowered by sharing in this way, Komen’s expectations about how a person should display her survivorship may also exert undue pressure on the diagnosed. I’ve heard similar sentiments throughout my research of pink ribbon culture.

Investigations into Komen’s activities suggest that the growing aversion to the organization’s approach to breast cancer support and awareness may be more than simply a matter of personal taste. In 2003, with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, Mary Ann Swissler examined Komen’s corporate and political ties and their influence on the direction of the Foundation. Komen’s literature did not reveal the lobbying ties, stock interests, seats on boards of private cancer treatment corporations, or the political activism of its key leaders, including Nancy Brinker herself. Yet Komen’s “stock portfolios and cozy relationships with Republican leadership” not only set them apart, their ties to cancer-related industry affected the organization’s objectivity and credibility. Sharon Batt, author of Patient No More: The Politics of Breast Cancer, told Swissler how Komen rose above the rest of the breast cancer movement in terms of power and influence.

“For one thing, the Komen Foundation has had more money. For another they carry friendly, reassuring messages through the media and their own programs, a phenomenon I like to term the ‘Rosy Filter,’ meaning the public is spoon-fed through a pink-colored lens stories of women waging a heroic battle against the disease, or the newest ‘magic bullet.’ Yet little light is shed on insurance costs, the environmental causes of breast cancer, or conflicts of interest.”

In the years that followed Swissler’s exposé the Komen organization was taken to task repeatedly, though sporadically, about how its political affiliations, high media profile, bureaucratic structure, corporate partnerships, industry ties, and market-based logic had led to questionable decisions. Squeezing out competing fundraisers is one of them. When Komen decided to expand its 5-K race to a multi-day walk, it started in San Francisco where Avon already had a 2-day walk planned. When Komen came in, Avon’s funds plummeted. KomenWatch told me that since the inception of its website numerous individuals have reported in confidence that Komen organizers have “deliberate strategies of non-collaboration” that keep them from attracting support for their smaller and less extravagant community initiatives. Against this background, it may not be surprising that Komen’s branding initiatives also involve legal efforts to keep other charities and organizations from using “for the cure” in their names.

In 2004 Breast Cancer Action tried to raise the public’s awareness that no one even knew how much money was being raised and spent in the name of breast cancer as awareness gave way to industry. Now in 2012, Reuters reports that critics within the philanthropic and research communities have also raised questions about Komen’s scientific approach and funding allocations, and The Washington Post rightly points out that Komen is part of a larger breast cancer culture that emphasizes “optics over integrity, crass commercialism and the infantilization of the female experience into something fashionable, cheerful or sexy.”

Over the years there have been numerous critiques of the Komen foundation. In addition to the news articles and essays in the KomenWatch archives, several books written about breast cancer in the last decade also note Komen’s role in the creation of a narrowly defined and profitable pink ribbon industry. [See EhrenreichKasper & Ferguson, Kedrowski and Sarow, King, KlawiterLey, and my own book, Sulik.]

Komen’s recent decision to change granting criteria in a way that would preclude the women’s health network, Planned Parenthood, from applying for grants to offset the cost of providing screenings to low-income women, is the latest in a series of moves to prioritize Komen’s brand. Though the decision was reversed, KomenWatch is keeping eyes and ears open. The rest is up to you. As a medical sociologist, I’m glad to be part of this message. Kudos to KomenWatch.

/  Gayle Sulik

How Do You Spell Chutzpah: Komen

Title: How Do You Spell Chutzpah: Komen

Author: Barbara Brenner

Publication: Healthy Barbs blog

Publication Date: July 28, 2011

Yiddish is a very expressive language, a blend of Hebrew and German used by Jews in Europe when they lived in shtetls. One of my favorite Yiddish words is chutzpah. The word has taken on some positive connotations, but I’m using it here in the sense of the Hebrew source word, where it means someone who has overstepped the boundaries of accepted behavior with no shame.

Chutzpah has the benefit of being both expressive, and relatively easy to pronounce, (unless you’re Michelle Bachmann). It is also a very apt description of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s recent move to sponsor October as Breast Cancer Action Month.

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Komen’s Wild Ride

Title: Komen’s Wild Ride

Author: Alicia C. Staley

Publication: wegoHealth blog

Publication Date: June 10, 2011

Dear Susan G. Komen for the Cure:

Stop. Just stop. I’ve reached the point where I’m embarrassed by you and all your branding efforts for the cure. I see tons of pink ribbons, plastered on everything from shampoo to lawn mowers and cat litter.  I’m beyond aware.  I’m frustrated.  I can no longer justify your breast cancer awareness campaigns to my friends that want to know why there’s no cure.  I’ve received more emails in the past week over at Awesome Cancer Survivor expressing exasperation at the breast cancer community than I care to count.  As a breast cancer survivor, I shouldn’t have to justify your behaviors.

When you launched your partnership with Kentucky Fried Chicken  (aka “Buckets for the Cure”), I excused your lapse of judgment.  I assumed it was a temporary slip, and you’d eventually focus your energies back on partnerships and alliances that aligned more closely with your stated goal of “For the Cure.”  You trumpeted the partnership, declaring KFC would make the largest one time donation of an estimated $8 million to Komen. The ultimate goal of the $8 million donation never materialized.  According to your own reports, you only took in $4.2 million.  Not pocket change by any stretch of the imagination, but only about half of what you were looking to grab. You are the self-proclaimed leader of the breast cancer community.  Where is your leadership?

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Cause Competitiveness: Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Title: Cause Competitiveness: Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Author: Estrella Rosenberg & Geoff Livingston

Publication: Geoff Livingston blog

Publication Date: March 29, 2011

If the last two marathon weeks of cause-related conferences are any indication, competition isn’t just something the for profit sector is thinking about – the cause community is too. How do we compete for market share? How do we compete for visibility? How do we compete for more money? Much has been said about competitiveness in the for profit sector, but what is the right role of competition in causes? Is there a right role?

Some would have full on competition, while others would have singular causes or coalitions within each sector. Are either of these right? They both are in a way. Competitive spirit definitely has its place: Finding the fastest, most efficient, most impactful way to resolve the problem the cause addresses.

Non-profits are not in business to make money. They are a business to be sure, but unlike a for-profit, which seeks to dominate markets and yield profits, a cause or social enterprise seeks to provide a solution. When a for-profit business is successful, it keeps its doors open for years and expands and keeps looking for more market share. When a non-profit is successful it should close its doors because its business – or mission – has been completed.

Are you competing just to raise the most money? Competing in the sense that a cause seeks to beat out its competition helps no one. It actually hurts the cause space by creating distractions and wasted resources.

Consider Komen for the Cure’s use of $1 million spent to legally enforce its rights to term “for the Cure.” How does that help anyone resolve health or larger issues? Worse, last year during The Cause Marketing Forum, Komen for the Cure proclaimed that it was their mission to reclaim the pink ribbon from other non-profits in the breast cancer space – organizations that they themselves support with grants! Imagine if that money and energy went towards finding the most innovative way to discover the most impactful solutions in breast cancer?

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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.

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Charity Risks Good Will With Legal Action

Title: Charity Risks Good Will With Legal Action

Author: P.S. Jones

Publication:  Moxy Magazine

Publication Date: February 14, 2011

When it comes to breast cancer charities, the biggest name in the world is Susan G. Komen For The Cure, a charity started by Nancy Goodman Brinker when her older sister died of the disease in 1980. In the over 25 years the charity has existed, it has reportedly donated over $1.5 billion dollars to breast cancer awareness, research and patient services. Although it is the biggest breast cancer charity in the world, Komen has seen plenty of criticism about its practices over the years, including its association with Planned Parenthood and “pinkwashing” products that aren’t necessarily promoting healthy lifestyles with its logo. Recently the charity has been under fire for using funds to conduct legal wars against other charities.

Since their rebranding initiatives in 2007, Komen has spent nearly a million dollars a year in an effort to keep other charities and organizations from using “for the cure” in their names. From “Kites For The Cure” to “Cupcakes For The Cure,” any organization that seems similar to Komen’s name or logo has faced legal opposition. In late 2010, several news sources, including the Wall Street Journal, ran polarizing stories about the legitimacy of Komen’s actions. Many supporters are upset that the money they entrusted to the organization has been funding petty legal actions against other charitable organizations.

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Komen’s Leadership in Question

Title: Komen’s Leadership in Question

Author: Gayle Sulik

Publication: Pink Ribbon Blues blog

Publication Date:

“The fury over Komen’s official responses to the trademark debacle continues to mount as individuals, breast cancer advocates, journalists, bloggers, and the diagnosed raise numerous questions about Komen’s trademark policing, hubris, and financial allocations. Despite an ambiguous admission on the Nightly News with Brian Williams that Komen may have been “overzealous” in its trademark protection and that the organization is “not perfect,” Komen maintains its official response that it sees trademark protection as “responsible stewardship” of donor funds.

For many, the Komen trademark feuds have been a touchstone for larger concerns about the commercialization of breast cancer, the festive environment surrounding the cause, the incremental advancements in modern medicine that make ‘cure’ an elusive term, the need for basic scientific research and increased attention to causation and primary prevention, and the dominion of one organization within a broad and diverse breast cancer movement. The need to “cure” more ills than breast cancer. This is not to say that the Komen organization hasn’t done some good.”

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Nightly News Reveals Komen’s Overzealousousness

Title: Nightly News Reveals Komen’s Overzealousousness

Author: Gayle Sulik

Publication: Pink Ribbon Blues blog

Publication Date: January 25, 2011

“On the Nightly News (Jan. 24, 2011) Brian Williams opened a segment about the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® trademark feuds with the following statement:

“The Susan G. Komen name is well known…what you may not know…the tactics and the power behind the name and the lengths they go to, to keep their work and their slogan their own. Smaller charities with the same goal of combating breast cancer have been forced into legal combat over this very thing.”

Correspondent Anne Thompson reported the story.”

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Hubris for the Cure

Title: Hubris for the Cure

Author: Kathi Kolb

Publication: The Accidental Amazon

Publication Date: January 22, 2011

“Frankly, I’d rather not have to write this post at all. But despite all that has been written regarding Susan G. Komen’s attempts to prevent other charities from using the phrase, “for the cure,” I still don’t get it. I just don’t understand what they are trying to achieve, nor do I comprehend their apparent failure to understand why so many of us in the breast cancer community have found it distressing and have yet to feel that Komen has addressed the issue in any meaningful way. And that’s why I’m writing this. Although I’d rather write about something more immediately germane to those of us with breast cancer, I feel compelled to remind Susan G. Komen that we would all feel better served by them if they would demonstrate better manners, priorities, teamwork and stewardship.”

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Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Sells Out the Pink to Get the Green

Title: Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Sells Out the Pink to Get the Green

Author: Gayle Sulik

Publication: Pink Ribbon Blues blog

Publication Date: January 14, 2011

“In response to increased publicity surrounding Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s questionable trademark and marketing activities, the organization published an official statement on its website, titled: “Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Sees Trademark Protection as Responsible Stewardship of Donor Funds.”

According to the statement, Susan G. Komen for the Cure® has never sued other charities or put other non-profits out of business, and the organization does not have plans to do so in the future. Apparently knitters, sandwich makers, and kite fliers who want to raise money for breast cancer or other causes should breathe easier now! Of course, there are many ways to squeeze out organizations, large and small, and Komen’s high profile, clout, and overflowing coffers work in conjunction with legal teams, cease and desist orders, and polite suggestions to encourage a political and economic climate in which only the wealthiest survive.”

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