A Charity By Any Other Name
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office records, the Texas non-profit corporation, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., has filed 291 federal trademark applications. This is a very large number, even in comparison to a company like Google, Inc., which has a mere 161 federal trademark applications. Far be it from me to dissuade anyone from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on trademark protection, but the Komen Foundation’s enforcement of those trademarks has taken what some view as a troubling turn. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Komen Foundation is using funds which could be used to fight breast cancer to lock horns with a lung-cancer fundraiser in a legal battle, and force the group “Kites For A Cure” to limit use of its name to lung-cancer functions and eschew pink ribbons.
David vs. Goliath
The Komen Foundation has also pursued dozens of other charities it feels are encroaching on the Komen Foundation’s intellectual property rights, even going so far as to assert a proprietary right in the phrase “for the cure” and the color pink. As you might imagine, smaller charities have very little leverage when it comes to a trademark battle. Even if a smaller charity is convinced it is not infringing on the trademarks of a larger charity, few charities have the $50,000 or more in disposable income required to vindicate that position in court. Large charites, knowing this, may seek to stretch otherwise rather narrow trademark protection to a much broader scope. A simple cease and desist letter from a megalaw firm is often all it takes to force a small charity to change its name.
The Rich Get Richer
While many donors would probably prefer their donations go directly to the cause at issue, with charities like the Komen Foundation raising nearly a third of a billion dollars a year, and paying officers up to $459,406/yr, You can bet the enforcement of trademark rights by big charities against smaller charities is going to increase, rather than decrease in the days to come. Unless, of course, they find a cure for breast cancer, in which case the Komen Foundation may be in the market for a new name itself.