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Monday, 13 August 2007

Johnsons go for the Red Cross jugular

The IPKat's scholarly friend Caroline Wilson (School of Law, University of Southampton) sent him this remarkable piece from The Independent concerning an action Johnson & Johnson is bringing against charitable organisation American Red Cross for trade mark infringement. According to the news report, J&J say the red cross belongs to them while the Red Cross, calling the lawsuit "obscene", says the two organisations have coexisted peacefully for over a century, sharing use of the red cross on a white background, which has grown to become an international symbol of aid and disaster relief. Not so, says J&J - the Red Cross has gone beyond its traditional use of the logo by launching first-aid kits, nail clippers, combs and toothbrushes in direct competition with its own products.

The Red Cross says it licenses first-aid kit makers because it is trying to encourage Americans to be prepared for disasters, and that it reinvests the revenues from its products in humanitarian work. The American Red Cross allegedly struck a deal with J&J in 1895, agreeing and acknowledging the company's "exclusive use of a red cross as a trademark and otherwise for chemical, surgical, pharmaceutical goods of every description". Seeking to avoid a colossal public relations disaster in suing a high-profile charity, J&J has declared that it has "great respect for the relief work of the American Red Cross and over the decades has consistently supported the organisation through cash donations, product donations and employee volunteering".

The IPKat fails to see how this course of action will prevent a public relations catastrophe: it's a bit like the hunters saying how much they enjoy wildlife and support respect nature before shooting Bambi's mother. Merpel adds, wouldn't the best solution be for the Red Cross to change its name and logo, getting away from the religious sectarianism of cross and crescent: how about the Red Pretzel?

Public relations disasters here
Red Pretzel recipe here


Vickie Pynchon said...

For some interest-based solutions and a reader commenter calling for a J&J boycott, read here:

Requesting punitive damages from a charitable institution whose monies come from donations by concerned citizens (such as myself and probably many of this blog's readers)would punish whom exactly?

Filemot said...

The Red Cross is not a Christian- though in the Muslim world they have bowed to pressure and go by the Red Crescent and now there is even a red crystal
However the sign itself is protected by the Geneva Convention and the American Red Cross in particular have been quite active in chasing commercial organisations who use it. I did not know about J&Js 1895 agreement - looks like they have had some unique benefits up to now and it is slightly surprising they are complaining that the Red Cross are looking to benefit directly. However there is a more serious point. These symbols should not be used on anything for sale at all. That way it is obvious when aid goods are being diverted and sold. All goods bearing this sign should be for humanitarian aid and given freely to those in need. It is folly to dilute that by allowing any commercial entity to sell goods bearing the sign of humanitarian aid. These signs are not used in the course of trade which is why they are protected by International Conventions. The Filemot solution is for both organisations to agree no trade. J&J can go green like the rest of the first aid market.

Jason said...

Sounds to me like J&J is right in this case. They have a trademark, have made reasonable accomodations with the Red Cross over a number of years, and Red Cross is licensing the trademark to J&J's competitors. However much good the Red Cross does, and how much money they make in this arrangement that would do further good, they are making money by allowing J&J's direct competitors to make money using J&J's trademark. It looks bad for J&J, but I think they are right in seeking to clarify the boundaries of the red cross trademark.

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