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.