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Kai Ryssdal: Different nonprofits may share similar missions -- raising money for good causes. But whatever you do, don't mess with anybody's trademarks. Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the breast cancer charity, has warned some groups to stay away from its trademarked phrase, "race for the cure." And look out out if you want to use the color pink.

Janet Babin reports now from North Carolina Public Radio.


Janet Babin: Susan G. Komen For the Cure has put other charities on notice: Don't use the phrase "for the cure." The foundation has launched a legal battle against groups that also use the slogan, like Bark for the Cure. And Kayaks for the Cure.

Corporations protect their brands all the time. But when charities do it...

Jennifer Jenkins: They may risk alienating the public they're trying to serve.

That's Jennifer Jenkins. She's director of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School. Jenkins says generic, descriptive phrases can't be trademarked.

But if consumers see something -- even a phrase -- and associate it with a particular company or nonprofit? It can be protected by law. Jenkins says the phrase "for the cure" is a toss up.

Jenkins: Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure certainly, but "for the cure" alone? To me that seems to come pretty close to saying that other charities can't seek a cure for their diseases, and that would be a concern.

Komen's general counsel Jonathan Blum says that the foundation protects its trademarks as a matter of financial stewardship and that the group wants to avoid confusion. A mix-up could mean a sizable donation, landing on another charity's books.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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