by Mike Masnick
Thu, Aug 9th 2007 12:28pm
Trademark law can do funny things, especially in this age where many IP lawyers and the popular press have misrepresented the purpose of trademarks. It's reached a point where many people now believe that trademark law is about ownership and control -- when it was really designed for consumer protection (so that consumers wouldn't be tricked into buying "Bob's Cola" thinking it was "Coca Cola"). A bunch of people have been submitting this latest story of trademark-gone-mad, where health-care products conglomerate Johnson & Johnson is suing the American Red Cross for violating its trademark on (you guessed it) the red cross symbol. The thing is, Johnson & Johnson may be on the correct side of the law in this case -- though, the wrong side of decency and common sense. J&J does own the trademark on the red cross symbol and has had a licensing arrangement with the ARC for over a century. However, the ARC has been licensing the symbol to make branded products such as "baby mitts, nail clippers, combs, toothbrushes, hand sanitizers and humidifiers." The ARC then sells these products as a way of raising money for all of its good work. Based on trademark law, of course, J&J will claim that it needs to protect the trademark or risk losing it entirely. But, that only shows one of the more ridiculous aspects of trademark law. And, it's not like J&J is going in with a light touch on this either. The lawsuits wants these products destroyed and is also seeking punitive damages. That's going well beyond the "we're forced to protect the trademark under the law" claim. It just makes them look like a bunch of bullies who would kick babies if it would make them money. While J&J was clearly concerned about the value of its trademark, it's not clear if they realized the value of good PR.
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