Susan G. Komen fights for trademark

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure logo


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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This is Andrea Rader, spokeswoman for Komen, and I thought I'd weigh in for those who are concerned that we spend a disproportionate amount of our time on trademark issues. We don't. We spend most of our time distributing the hundreds of millions of the dollars we've raised to research and to the 1,900 community organizations that we help to fund ($500 million to research and more than $900 million to community programs since we started in 1982). We have a four-star ranking from Charity Navigator three years running, which means we run very efficiently, with 84 cents of every dollar going right to the programs and research that I mentioned. We don’t claim to own the color pink; neither do we try to stop other charities from raising their own funds (in fact, we provide funds to other charities). It’s unfortunate that the Marketplace story left the impression that we’ve put other charities “on notice.” We strive to reach amicable agreements that ensure donors’ funds are going to the organizations that the donors intended, whether that’s Komen or someone else. Thanks.

I am reminded of Rodney King's famous sound bite "People, please, can't we just get along?". If we put this issue in branding parlance, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is the uber-brand of the pink ribbon and "race for the cure". The other organizations can be considered as partners and should leverage the power of the creator to help establish their cause by crediting their inspiration. So, what am I saying? Susan G. Komen should be more charitable and the other organizations should be more respectful.

Andrea Naddaff, Partner, http://www.corey.com

Marketing "for the cure". It sounds like the branding campaign is overshadowing the original mission to eradicate breast cancer. Maybe there is such a thing as "too big to care", when a charity has sufficient resources and time to include legal harrassment of smaller charities for less common causes as a fund raising strategy.

I heard this story in commuter traffic and asked myself: Would a charitable organization be so concerned about loosing a single donation to another worthy cause? Johathan Blum should be replaced with an attorney who protects the organization from ridiculous ideas that detract from the mission of the SGK organization. The race for the cure is wildly successful. Too bad that has resulted in a pompous attitude that smells of greed.

As a 14 year participant in the Susan G. Komen race for the cure, an event that draws hundreds of thousands of people around the country, I'm upset to hear that this organizations is spending the time and resources to argue about a trademark and not dedicate themselves to what they claim they are all about. Thanks for reporting on this story and please keep us up to date with what our Not-for-profit companies are really spending their money on. Maybe I'll stick to supporting local Nonprofits.

Where is the money coming from to fund these lawsuits that the big non-profit organizations and foundations are pursuing. Are donors paying for a large foundation to sue another for their name or trademark? In regards to The Sunshine Kids Foundation, they have over a million dollar budget each year, and they are going after a tiny grassroots organization in Chico, CA, The Sunshine Kids Club, who has a budget of around $120,000 per year. The Sunshine Kids Club has just two employees and is largely volunteer based and provides youth programs that directly serve hundreds of children annually. The result is that The Sunshine Kids Club does not have the resources to fight this lawsuit and therefore is being forced to spend time (that should be spent on the kids programs) in changing our name and rebranding our entire organization, which has been in existence for the past 15 years. The question is what do we do? How do we get the non-profits back to their mission, and their mission alone. The Sunshine Kids Club has a mission of inclusion, giving all kids a place to "Just Be Themselves" whether they have disabilities or not. Our biggest hope is that one day groups like ours will not be needed because inclusion will be a part of everyday life, but until then we are doing the best we can in making a difference in kids lives. One day at a time. I hope people look at this and realize that not all non-profits are the same. Do your research and see who is focused on their mission and on truly making a difference, and support those organizations, because they need it.


And they called themselves NONPROFIT? I can totally see for-profit here. Fighting over a trademark? This is ridiculous.

Perhaps the CIBC and Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation should look into suing Komen for lifting their 'for the cure' phrase, which has been used since the inception of the run in 1992... whereas Komen only changed its branding in 2007. Or perhaps the musical group from the 70's, The Cure, should sue? As for trademarking a colour - seriously?

Is Komen interested in raising funds for research, or in promoting itself? I'm thinking the latter.

Oh, great. The donation I just made to someone doing the walk (race, whatever it is; better not use the wrong word or I might get sued) is going to the organization's lawyers so they can prevent others from using a color? I thought the money was going to cure cancer. I guess I'll think twice next year.

BTW, Ed Walk, a half million a year in salary to the CEO of a nonprofit sounds more than a bit high to me.

Ed Walk - correction please, it's the Left-Wing that drove a horrifying socialist agenda in Germany and an entire ethnic group into concentration camps, not right-wing. Re-written history there dear! Left-wing is pro-government, in all parts of your life, cradle to grave everything is given to you, as a "right", it is socialism, or marxism, or tyrannical - you pick. Right-wing is less government, less laws, more personal responsibility, you have to take care of yourself and your family on your own, and in order to do that you need to get a job type thing.

On this color pink, everything is sold in pink now, it seems like it's hard to even know if it supports anything! Even handguns - pink. It seems like a gravy train for companies making things in pink to increase sales.


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