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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 1:27am

    this is the sort of thing that makes America so great!!

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 1:27am

    Keep clutching your trademarks to keep you warm, when more people learn you fucked over a non-profit who wasn't a threat I expect perhaps less sales of your product.

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

  • icon
    Jeff Green (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 1:44am

    Time for a friendly billionaire to fund an ad campaign

    "Hate homeless people, recovering addicts and ex-cons?

    Then rush out and buy a tree-shaped car-freshener, from the company that shares your views!

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

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 2:01am

      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.

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

    • icon
      Oninoshiko (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 8:32am

      Re:

      Why would a friendly billionare do that? Wouldn't it be better (and cheaper!) for them to just pay off the debts and fund the suit?

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

  • icon
    mistercynical (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 4:01am

    Christmas

    No Virginia, we can't have a Christmas tree this year. The Grinch has a trademark on things that are shaped like Christmas trees and have an odor.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 4:15am

    Never bought one, never will. Thousands of other options other than some tacky tree.

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

  • icon
    timmaguire42 (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 4:58am

    "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.

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

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 5:32am

      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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 6:14am

        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'!

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

      • icon
        timmaguire42 (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 7:50am

        Re: Re:

        Yes, one would think. But where the incentives are screwy, at least some behavior will be too.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 10:25am

      Re:

      Calling trademark, copyright or patent property, results in Smaug syndrome (if anybody touches it, I will burn everything around me down)in the sociopaths that run companies.

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

  • identicon
    me here, 27 Oct 2016 @ 5:56am

    amazons just a wee bit tone deaf

    the advertisement listed for me on this page is from amazon for little trees air fresheners. the joy of automation(^^).

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

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 27 Oct 2016 @ 6:30am

    If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. Our normal business hours are 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM ET, Monday through Friday.

    "https://www.littletrees.com/about/contact.cfm"

    They'd love to hear from us. I bet that page will change in the coming days.

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

  • icon
    hopponit (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 6:55am

    Sun Cedar

    I think we need to start our own pushback on this. I'm starting the first step already. I will boycot the car freshener company now. But maybe we could start a crowdsourse for the nonprofit to help them out too.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 7:14am

    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.

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 8:03am

    So another judge that has no idea how trademark law works and decided to let this run it's course instead of throwing them out of court for wasting everyone's time.

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

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 9:16am

      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.

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

  • icon
    united9198 (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 9:56am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 27 Oct 2016 @ 10:34am

      Re: Car Freshener

      I don't blame them for aggressively defending their turf.

      In what way do you believe this was "their turf"?

      This wasn't a knockoff or a counterfeit product. No reasonable person would confuse the Sun Cedar carvings with Car-Freshener's products.

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

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Oct 2016 @ 12:06pm

      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.

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


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