Can You Trademark Awareness Of A Disease?

from the someone's-trying dept

BoingBoing has the latest story of trademark insanity, where a “charity” focused on the rare, but apparently serious disease of Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH), is trying to trademark the phrase “Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia Awareness” and appears to be threatening other charities for using the phrase, and (according to this petition) has filed complaints to get fundraising stores shut down for using the phrase. The whole thing is so bizarre, and so far outside the purpose of trademark law that it’s really difficult to understand how this issue could have gone as far as it has. But, you have to say one thing for the charity doing this: they have “raised awareness” of CDH.

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Comments on “Can You Trademark Awareness Of A Disease?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

For crying out loud, why are you giving people the impression that this organization is trying to co-opt others from using the term CDH? They are trying to trademark the entire phrase as used in association with their specific charity, and make no claim as to the individual elements of the mark. People will still be able to freely use “CDH” and “awareness”, as well as the phrase “CDH awareness” in a manner other than a trademark sense. For example, it would be totally legal for another organization to provide material including sentences such as “The primary purpose of our organization is to enhance CDH awareness.”, “We want to enhace awareness of CDH.”, etc. As John Stossel says, “Give me a break!”

For example, you will quickly find about 230 different registered marks using “breast cancer” in association with other terms. Check out the USPTO trademark database if you harbor doubts. I am unaware of any crimp this has placed on others who establish organizations associated with breast cancer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There charity is called Breath of Hope. Why would they need to Trademark “Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia Awareness”? Isn’t the whole point of a trademark to protect your product or company name, so that there won’t be other companies confusing consumers or customers. So in essence, it’s NOT like the Brest Cancer Awareness Foundation, or in this case, The Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia Awareness Foundation, no it’s Breath of Hope trying to monopolize as the only charity for the the awareness of the disease.

It is so very hard to have a battle of wits with the unarmed.

usmcdvldg says:

Re: Re:

As u probably know, I’m usually the first to note when this site cry’s wolf but….

Actually, another charity organization would not be able to use the phrase, CDH awareness because this charity would own in. Just like Adidas can’t use “Just do it” because its owned by Nike, any organization that performs a function simalar to that of CDH awareness,Breath of Hope, Inc would be bared from using this phrase in association with themselves. For instance, they couldn’t say “we provide CDH awareness” or “we support CDH awareness” because that phrase is the legal “mark” of all trade pertaining to Breath of Hope, Inc.

Know I’m not that well verse in trademark law so I can’t speak to the actual legality of this, but the idea does seem distasteful at the very least!

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re:

First, adding “awareness” to the name of a disease should not be unique enough to qualify for a trademark. The phrase is too generic.

Second, if this is really a legitimate, respectable charity trying to help this cause, why are they trying to stifle others’ efforts to help the same cause? Sure, there is no law saying a charity has to be a “good” charity, but it certainly kills any sympathy I might have for them.

Steven Hartman says:

Re: CDH Awareness

It’s not as simple as Anonymous Coward suggests. Trademark rights in “CDH Awareness” puts a cloud on competitor’s rights to use that term (and such terms as “CDH Awareness Day” or “CDH Aware”) as the title of an awareness campaign for a therapy to treat CDH or to raise money for a CDH-related cause. “Breast Cancer Awareness” is not registered in the USPTO.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: CDH Awareness

While there are always nuances that depend upon particular circumstances, it is that simple. In this specific situation the mark is extremely weak (and this is an understatement) at best, as a consequence of which attempts to enforce it would be very, very difficult…bordering on impossible except in the most extreme of cases.

Traipse on over the the USPTO trademark database and type in the term “breast cancer”. Right now there are about 154 marks that use the term and are in force.

BTW, if the individual at the linked site understood what trademark law embraces and what it does not, she would almost certainly realize she is making a mountain out of something that is far, far smaller than a mole hill.

usmcdvldg says:

Re: Re:

No one would be force to not use Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia there not trademarking Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia. This would be analogous to Nike trademarking the word shoe, and im relatively certain this is illegal for one reason or another.

They are trying to trademark “Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia awareness” which noone else involved with the illness would be allowed to use

NullOp says:


What a hoot. I sincerely hope that if this reaches the courts it is thrown out as being ridiculous. This falls into the “You can’t fleece the masses with that phrase! Only I can fleece the masses with that phrase!” And, as always, greed is involved as its easier to pay big-bucks to the CEO/Chief Fundraiser if you’re building a monopoly based on a phrase.

brown65 says:

Details - Details...

The mark is in the Supplemental Registry. There is a generic term of the phrase then there is the organization’s term of the phrase with their goods and services. It would only infringe if the the mark was used and the goods and services were replicated by another.

Petitions to cancel are the start of the suit – there must be proof which if you read the Petition, there is no legal reason listed to cancel said mark. Fraud is a basis which must be proven and first in use has been an argument long lost on Petitions. The othr organization appears not to have a conflicting mark – this also lessesn their argument. The only other legal reason listed is generic? The word Awareness itself is trademarked.

There are also countless other phrases – and this is one that are trademarked of other diseases and conditions.

By the way – this is a birth defect – not a disease. Details people…Interesting that the charity that has the mark is listed in the IRS and they come up in the database. The one that is making all the stink and filed the petition – go to the IRS under charities, why can’t you pull CHERUBS up in the IRS search?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Details - Details...

Be careful lest you incur the wrath of those who have strong contrary positions based upon the total absence of any relevant facts and knowledge of the concepts that underlie trademark law. They are only too quick to decry a system about which the possess no substantive knowledge.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Details - Details...

Perhaps you should try reading comments 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, 18 and 19 to this article before posting a comment such as this. Each of these comments are being made by persons who demonstrably have not the slightest understanding of trademark law comprises and how it works.

For one who constantly criticizes persons who express opinions on this site that you feel reflect ingonorance of basic economic principles, it seems a bit hypocritical to criticize persons who express opinions on this site that do reflect substantive knowledge of applicable law.

Quick now…and without searching the internet or some other reference…can you identify the constitutional provision from which federal trademark law is derived? Likewise, what is the TMEP (again, no peeking)? If one understands even a modicum of substantive trademark law, they should be able to answer these questions in mere nanoseconds.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Details - Details...

Heh. You must have been one of those kids in high school who picked on others who didn’t know all the right rules of grammar.

Do you really feel so superior because you’re a lawyer? You come here pretty much every day with some similar comment every day, and it doesn’t make you look smart. It just makes you look like a condescending brat.

Yes, I’m quite aware of the constitutional backing of trademark law. It stems from the commerce clause because trademark law is about commerce. This is, of course, different from where copyright and patent law come from. Yay. So brilliant.

If I didn’t know that, though, it wouldn’t have made any freaking difference in understanding whether or not this bit of trademark law made sense. Bringing it up is meaningless to this discussion, and the only purpose of doing so is to give you another chance to appear smug and superior. I have no problem admitting that I’m unfamiliar with TMEP, so after doing so I’ve looked it up, and I see, again, that it’s rather meaningless to the discussion, but I’m glad it makes you feel superior. That must be enjoyable.

Anonymous Coward says:

TMEP is an acronym for the “Trademark Manual of Examining Prodedure”, the internal guidance used by trademark examiners to process trademark applications. I asked about it for a specific reason not particularly related to techdirt.

Back in the early 80s IP law underwent a cardinal change when it was “discovered” by non-IP lawyers as a potential cash cow. Suddenly all of them were holding themselves out as experts, and from that point forward I began noticing many of the abuses that regularly appear in news reports.

As in-house counsel for a Fortune 50 company I was constantly bombarded by attorneys trying to wine and dine me to get the company as a client. One of my small tests for trying to figure out who knew what they were talking about and who did not was to casually ask if they had a copy of the TMEP for me to take a quick look at to answer a question I had. Much more often than not I received a quizical (sp?) look, it being clear the person did not have a clue what I was talking about. That look sealed the deal…no deal if he/she did not know about one of the most basic resources needed to practice trademark law. This exemplifies in large measure part of the problem that underlies many of the problems you and others write about.

By the was, I happen to be a person who happens to practice law. My purpose in posting comments about the law that some seem to interpret as being argumentative is merely for the sake of accuracy. It is impossible to gauge what is and what is not a real issue without an accurate understanding of what the law entails. In this specific instance the linked site was started by an individual who is not familiar with the ins and outs of trademark law, and in situations such as this passion tends to overcome reason. People begin to say the law is an a**, which in this case is incorrect.

By the way, I am heartened you know about the commerce clause, not because it is the genesis for trademark law, but because it demonstrates your sensitivity to one of the most important powers of Congress that is regularly abused under pressure from special interest groups.

Jim says:

CDH Awareness

By the very long and interesting list of “attacks” on the other organizations it seems as though the offending charity is threatening the others by claiming ownership of this flimsy trademark. You cannot help but sympathize with the organizations who have filed the Petition to Cancel clearly in an effort to stop the attacks.

I looked up CHERUBS on the IRS site and several charity sites and their state site and it looks to me that they are in good standing and have been in existence for a long time. It took some searching but I found their IRS paperwork on their extensive site also. I could not find the word Awareness itself trademarked.

In doing this search which only goes to show that I have entirely too much time on my hands I found several interesting documents on the history of this Elizabeth person.

I am not a man easily swayed by female drama but I found myself popping popcorn and reading these documents until 3am. I would recommend that CHERUBS file charges against her and Breath of Hope on several grounds. At the very least someone needs to sue this woman in hopes that a judge will order psychiatric care or counseling and a proverbial time out since it seems that she cannot play well with others.

Joann says:

Re: CDH Awareness

Jim – do you believe everything you read on the internet? I hope not because apparently if you read this on-line Petition and sign it – which will do nothing but give you a inbox of spam – you can see that this woman who is now pleading for a pro bono attorney has made a mountain out of a molehill.

The organizations that don’t say anything and don’t air the dirt – or galf it off and just continue to do their work – ahum – Obama Campaign vs. McCain – for example. Usually have the winning ace up their sleave.

The answer was filed and the CEO may be an attorney or in law by the way it is written – if not – she’s brighter than this one begging for an attorney who wrote a piss poor Petition.

CHERUBS (user link) says:


To clarify for brown65:

CHERUBS can be found on Guidestar –;_ylu=X3oDMTBybnZlZnRlBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMQRjb2xvA2FjMgR2dGlkAw–/SIG=130c8mt5c/EXP=1231863936/**http%3a//

Our financial documents and IRS letters are available for download on our site –

Jim, if you are offering your services pro bono to help us stop this behavior, please feel free to contact me. This is extended to all lawyers here. A good pro bono NC or VA lawyer to help end this once and for all would be a great help to our charity.

Thank you all for your support, analysis, signatures on our petition, and for raising CDH awareness. On behalf of over 2600 CDH families and medical professionals, our sincerest appreciation goes to you all.

Dawn Williamson
President & Founder
CHERUBS – The Association of Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia Research, Awareness and Support

Anonymous Coward says:

Trademarking a horrible disease (which took my son at 14 days old) is ridiculous. This charity should be banned from everything. They have divided the CDH world and instead of giving awareness to CDH they have tainted it. New families whose baby’s are diagnosed with CDH have to read petty fights over a trademark name rather than focusing on finding out information about the scariest thing they will ever have to deal with. Breath of Hope is horrible for doing this. They should remember their dead babies and stop this nonsense!

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