Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
red cross, trademark

johnson & johnson, red cross

Court Tosses Out Most Of Johnson & Johnson's Trademark Lawsuit Against The Red Cross

from the don't-mess-with-charities dept

Last summer, we wrote about the absolutely ridiculous situation where Johnson & Johnson decided (against all common sense) to sue the American Red Cross (ARC) for trademark infringement over using (get this...) the red cross to sell products to raise more money for ARC. Beyond just being a really bad PR move to sue one of the world's most respected charities, the legal specifics were quite murky as well. Basically, ARC and J&J had worked out an agreement over a century ago to effectively share the use of the trademark (it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the basic agreement). On top of that, there are laws preventing anyone from falsely using the Red Cross symbol -- and J&J claimed that the companies that ARC licensed the symbol to were doing just that. Luckily, the court has thrown out most of the case, claiming that the law seemed pretty clear in allowing ARC to use the symbol in commercial products, even licensing it out. In fact, the court noted that back in the 80's J&J engaged in a similar promotion where it donated some money from certain products sold to ARC. The judge also noted how ridiculous it is to claim that a charity was doing this for nefarious purposes: "The fact that the ultimate purpose of these licensing activities is a 'charitable purpose' -- i.e. to raise funds that A.R.C., a not-for-profit organization, can utilize for its charitable endeavors -- only further emphasizes their legitimacy." There are still a few parts of the case left unresolved, but the big parts have now all been dismissed.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Nate, May 20th, 2008 @ 11:20am


    It is unbelievable that J&J would go after the Red Cross in the first place. I mean, it is a freaking not for profit charity orgaization, not some other company trying to profit. It goes to show how greedy these corporations really are. And further more, it isn't like the Red Cross is somehow cutting into J&J's profits at all. In fact, I bet the Red Cross buy supplies in some form or another from J&J. Or maybe they don't and that is the reason for the malicious lawsuit... who freaking knows. All I know is I will now hold J&J product in different light and there is a strong chance I will avoid them if possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Mike, May 20th, 2008 @ 11:54am

    Not so fast...

    As is often stated, trademarks are for consumer protection to avoid consumer confusion. If the ARC is now selling (or licensing other to sell) first-aid and related products, which they had previously agreed to be under the domain of J&J, they are now entering into J&J territory. While, the ARC does a lot of good charitable work, that should not give them a free pass to enter into J&J's business... The fact the J&J has previously run a sales promotion giving a portion of profits to ARC is also irrelevant to the argument.

    If a charity were named "Dominos", I think they could successfully argue the right to a "Dominos" trademark. However, it they wanted to start raising money by delivering pizza, I would think things would get pretty sticky...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    The Rog, May 20th, 2008 @ 11:54am

    Unbelievable 2.0

    You know it wasn't actually J&J that initiated this suit, it was some ambulance chasing attorney. Now that lawyers have proliferated like rats, they have to sit around and dream up people to sue and screw. Basically, there's really not enough work to go around for these lawyers, so they are forced to make things up in order to be employed. There's a special room in hell for these worthless parasites!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, May 20th, 2008 @ 11:55am

    It may be my history

    Between MASH on TV, my mom being a nurse and teaching first aid at the red cross, when I look at the red cross, that's exactly what I think. The only Johnson & Johnson logo I know of is Johnson&Johnson . If that is the same for more people, doesn't that negate the trademark all together?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    ehrichweiss, May 20th, 2008 @ 11:56am

    The ARC

    This is a bit off-topic but the ARC might be a not-for-profit but they aren't what most might call a good charity either.

    If you don't already know, the ARC doesn't have local chapters or the like that are run by the main organization. Instead each chapter is a franchise that has to pay a hefty sum in yearly dues in order to be able to use the name of the ARC for fund raising events.

    A friend of mine ran one of the local chapters in a poor area of the state and they'd collect, say, $135,000 in a year and then have to pay out $125,000 in dues which would then leave all of $10,000 to pay everyone, and still find some way to provide aid for the people in the area. Know what those dues go to? Paying the salaries of the big wigs in the national organization. IIRC they have/had the highest salaries for any non-profit.

    In my opinion they're nothing more than a big scam like the Ronald McDonald foundation and other places like it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2008 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Not so fast...

    Yeah, but Red Cross is to an extent, a medical charity, and it was registered in Europe before J&J and tried to get registered in America, but there were issues with that

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    Re: The ARC

    Thing about the Red Cross is it's illegal to bomb them as per the geneva convention. It's the Red Crescent in Islamic areas due to negative historic conectations of the Red Cross on a white background... Crusaders

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2008 @ 2:07pm

    Reminds me of a similar case a few years ago of WWE (formerly WWF) suing the World Wildlife Fund over the use of WWF in marketing. In the end they lost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    ehrichweiss, May 20th, 2008 @ 3:16pm

    Re: Re: The ARC

    I don't know if I have any issues with the international Red Cross...just the American version. And I don't have a bit of a problem with the people who help those in need either, just the assholes making millions of $$$ off of other people's hard work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    DanC, May 20th, 2008 @ 4:46pm


    Other way around. The companies had a 1994 agreement allowing them both to use the initials. The wrestling company violated the agreement, so the Wildlife Fund sued and won. The wrestling company has limited rights to sell old merchandise with their old logo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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