Friday, August 10, 2007

Could This Internationally Known Symbol Get Tarnished? Where Is The Line To Be Drawn?

Corporate greed. You hear about it almost every day. Now, a symbol of both humanitarian help and quality health products are going to battle in the courts. But there are some underlying questions that deal not with the symbol, but its use on marketed products. In a statement released Wednesday, The American Red Cross commented on a lawsuit being brought against it by Johnson & Johnson. J&J is apparently claiming that the Red Cross emblem is actually a copyrighted emblem of that company, and the non-profit first aid and emergency preparedness organization is to immediately stop using it. In addition, J&J's attorneys want the Red Cross to surrender to the company all violating products so J&J can dispose of them; pay the company all the proceeds from the sale of these offending products, plus interest; and pay punitive damages and all of the case's legal fees. The Red Cross uses over 90% of its proceeds from sales to invest in humanitarian services.

Now here's where the lawsuit gets tricky and has some merit. The two had shared the symbol amicably for more than 100 years — Johnson & Johnson on its commercial products and the American Red Cross as a symbol of its relief efforts on foreign battlefields and in disasters like floods and tornadoes. From time to time, the American Red Cross sold products bearing the symbol as fund-raising efforts. Jeffrey J. Leebaw, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, said the company had no objection to that. But in 2004, the American Red Cross began licensing the symbol to commercial partners selling products at retail establishments. According to the lawsuit, those products include humidifiers, medical examination gloves, nail clippers, combs and toothbrushes. Now I know that J&J is a symbol for quality medical products but I had no idea that they were in a commercial venture to market competitive products.

“What we’re talking about here is their deviation from a longstanding partnership and collaboration around the use of this trademark and their push to commercialize this trademark in the for-profit arena,” Mr. Leebaw said. “We deeply regret that it has become necessary to file this complaint. The company has the highest regard for the American Red Cross and its mission.” The company entered into an agreement with the American Red Cross in 1895. The agreement acknowledged Johnson & Johnson’s exclusive right to the red cross as a “trademark for chemical, surgical and pharmaceutical goods of every description.” The lawsuit says that the American Red Cross has the right under a Congressional charter awarded in 1900 to use the red cross design in connection with its efforts to provide voluntary relief. “Carrying out a commercial enterprise or business is not and never has been one of the purposes of the American Red Cross,” the lawsuit said.

So is the Red Cross really a non-profit organization? I can see J&J's point of view on this. J&J has been using that cross for a very long time, legally, to make a profit (with their trademarked symbol). When non-profits begin to get into the commercial market, it can be a very slippery slope in regards to brand-forgiveness, etc. Also, the Red Cross, as much good as they have done in our world, is still a huge corporation. To think that the "corporate greed" mentality has not tainted the higher-ups in any way is naïve. I foresee J&J (with a long, established history of using and profiting from this logo) winning this lawsuit. I'm sure that this is going to hurt J&J more than the Red Cross. Johnson & Johnson's stock price took a downturn on Wall Street on Wednesday.

I'm at a loss to take a position on this. I know that the products that the Red Cross are producing are in a way competitive to J&J. I have donated to the Red Cross on numerous occasion and have even raised funds for them. But to find out that they are licensing their "logo" to other companies to sell products at places like Target has me miffed. To me, non-profit mean just that. Non (or not) profit (to make money). These two companies need to sit down and work this out before it becomes a bigger spectacle than it already is and both organizations get hurt. Why didn't the Red Cross contract J&J to make these products? And for the billion-dollar "for-profit" company J&J to file a lawsuit with such extra crap like punitive damages it a little over the top.

I think someone should lose one of their Johnsons for this.