Car-Freshener Wields Little Trees Trademark To Bankrupt Non Profit That Helped Ex-Cons And Recovering Addicts

from the nice-job-assholes dept

Back in August, Mike wrote about a trademark case between Car-Freshner Corp., the company that makes those ubiquitous tree-shaped air-fresheners, and Sun Cedar, a tiny non-profit that made real-wood fresheners while employing at-risk folk in the form of the homeless, ex-cons and recovering addicts. It was a strange case for any number of reasons, including the dissimilar appearance between the product of the two companies, the wide delta of size of the two companies, and the very nature of the work Sun Cedar was attempting to do as a social good. Sadly but unsurprisingly, Car-Freshner trotted out the excuse that it had to sue this small non-profit or risk losing its trademarks.

And now it seems like, rather than working out some other kind of arrangement that would have allowed Sun Cedar’s good work to continue, the trademark dispute has resulted in the end of the non-profit entirely, at least in its current iteration. Even with an attorney agreeing to represent the non-profit for free, the costs of taking on the suit in far-off NYC simply killed the whole operation.

Mediation efforts between Sun Cedar and Car-Freshner were unsuccessful and last month Sun Cedar filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Its shop, a converted garage, now sits idle. The equipment Adams purchased will be sold to pay off Sun Cedar’s debts.

“A disappointing aspect to me about this case was that this could not have been achieved through coexistence, that we couldn’t resolve this through the parties just talking and settling this,” [attorney] Schwimmer says.

The post then goes on to trot out the aforementioned preferred excuse for this kind of trademark bullying: Car-Freshners had to torpedo this small non-profit employing the otherwise unemployable, because otherwise it might lose its trademark rights. This isn’t true. And, to the post’s credit, it goes on to quote Cheryl Burbach, a trademark attorney not involved in the case, thusly:

“I have a friend who always says infringers are just business partners you haven’t met yet. I can’t take credit for that, but I think it’s a very apt statement,” Burbach says.

Of course it is! Car-Freshners could have looked at the good work Sun Cedar was doing and chose to make them a business partner, rather than a corporate ghost. It could have cheaply licensed Sun Cedar’s production, even working out an arrangement to promote them via the license, building some good-will with the public on the back of Shine Adams’ philanthropy. And, even that wasn’t necessary, because as was explained in the original post on this case, it’s pretty clear that (1) Sun Cedar didn’t infringe and (2) Car-Freshener’s trademarks very likely are invalid. But, Car-Freshener has a history of trademark bullying and it kept it up here. Instead of letting this non profit continue doing good work, Sun Cedar is bankrupt and, according to its website, desperately trying to start all over again, thanks to a view in the trademark realm that sees attack as the only option.

This, because a non-profit tried to get ex-cons and recovering addicts to make tree-shaped wood air fresheners. Great.

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Companies: car-freshener, sun cedar

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Comments on “Car-Freshener Wields Little Trees Trademark To Bankrupt Non Profit That Helped Ex-Cons And Recovering Addicts”

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31 Comments
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Think of all the ones Trump would buy. 🙂

No need for a billionaire, I’m just 1 sociopath on twitter and in 30 minutes I’ve gotten lots of retweets suggesting people purchase any other airfreshener than these asses.

I wonder if someone would like to share it on Facebook and tag the corporations page.

timmaguire42 (profile) says:

“Car-Freshener’s trademarks very likely are invalid. But, Car-Freshener has a history of trademark bullying”

Those two things are probably related. There is a kernel of truth to Car-Freshener’s argument–companies police their own marks and can lose them if they don’t. So the law does encourage trademark bullying, even if some companies take it to extreme.

But note how the incentive plays out here–a weak mark will need to be “protected” more aggressively for the very reason that it is weak. It is more likely to be lost if they don’t keep a high fence around it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

One would think that a corporation today might grasp the idea that instead of going nuclear on the non-profit but instead allowing them to survive would have created more good will for them. Instead they destroyed the non-profit who wasn’t a threat and drew that much more attention to the trademarks and the bullying they will resort to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

One would think that a corporation today might grasp the idea that instead of going nuclear on the non-profit but instead allowing them to survive would have created more good will for them.

But where’s the fun in that?

Instead they destroyed the non-profit who wasn’t a threat and drew that much more attention to the trademarks and the bullying they will resort to.

Now you’re talkin’!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Product placement!

SWAT guys raid a city apartment flat. They go from dusty, murky room to dusty murky room, Car-Freshner trees in gross numbers dangle from the ceiling.

The troopers close on the bedroom where someone is under the covers. They yell at him to get up but he doesn’t move.

One trooper pulls the cover off. A skeletal corpse is surrounded by medical paraphernalia, IV bags, syringes… The mattress is bare and covered in urine.

Behind the corpse, one word is written large on the wall, SLOTH.

A SWAT trooper prods him and whispers You got what you deserved.

The corpse coughs and gasps.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

IP is our most valuable asset.
This is leading forethought in the courts.

IP is so important a Judge killed a scooter competitor at a trade show over baseless claims.

IP is so important a patent that describes what we’d call a bandaid can be stretched to cover shoppping carts online & courts award millions.

IP is so important a company that doesn’t have clear rights to a film has filed multiple copyright lawsuits, collected settlements & not paid any of those profits to the investors.

IP is so important a fucking cardboard tree gives them the power to control anything tree shaped in the world.

Perhaps its time we finally admit we fucked the whole thing up & start fixing it.

united9198 (profile) says:

Car Freshener

The manufacturer of Little Trees makes all of their products in the good old USA and have to continually battle the issue of knock offs and outright counterfeit products coming in and stealing business and damaging their reputation for quality. It would seem that they might have found a way to work with the non-profit, but I don’t blame them for aggressively defending their turf. I know there are those who hate anyone who is successful, but that’s where jobs come from and where a lot of people get their paychecks.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Car Freshener

please explain how a thin cardboardish thing sprayed with scent is knocked off by a block of actual cedar cut into a pine tree shape that wasn’t a direct copy of the trademarked design. One might think something a few millimeters thick wouldn’t be confused with a thick piece of cedar.

Please explain how a tiny nonprofit represented any threat to the major corporation. Please explain how something retailing for 20x the price, not bearing the little trees name could reflect poorly on little trees…. well other than them pushing a non-profit out of business and screwing over people trying to rebuild their lives.

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