• December 20, 2014

Drug Company Sues Red Cross Over Trademark Use

Johnson & Johnson has filed a lawsuit against the American Red Cross, alleging the charity is violating a long-held trademark by selling products such as humidifiers, toothbrushes, and combs under its own brand.

The health-care manufacturing company claims in its suit that it has the exclusive right to use the Red Cross trademark on commercial products. In the suit, Johnson & Johnson is ordering the American Red Cross to destroy all of its licensed first-aid products, turn over the proceeds of its past sales of such products, and pay damages and court costs.

The American Red Cross, in Washington, says it plans to fight the suit vigorously.

“For a multi-billion-dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute that was created to protect the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross — simply so that J&J can make more money — is obscene,” Mark W. Everson, Red Cross’s president, said in a written statement.

The Red Cross started a large-scale effort to sell licensed products about three years ago. It works with several national manufacturers to create products such as first-aid kits, baby products, rubber gloves, disaster radios, and nursing shoes. The charity earns royalty payments based on product sales.

The charity says the product sales — in addition to raising money — are part of its mission of helping people prepare for emergencies and disasters.

But Johnson & Johnson — which makes name-brand products such as Tylenol, Band-Aid, Visine, and Neutrogena, and which posted 2006 sales of more than $53-billion — says the Red Cross is stepping over long-held legal boundaries by marketing such products.

The New Brunswick, N.J., company said it has held the rights to use the Red Cross trademark on commercial products since 1887, before the formation of the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross has the rights only to use the trademark in connection with its nonprofit relief services, Johnson & Johnson claims.

Johnson & Johnson officials said they filed the suit against the American Red Cross only after the nonprofit organization declined to allow a mediator to resolve the dispute. “[Johnson & Johnson] was left with no choice but to seek protection of our trademark rights through the courts,” the company said in a statement released this morning.

The American Red Cross, however, argues that Johnson & Johnson’s lawsuit is an attempt to interfere with its ability to fulfill its mission.

“The Red Cross products that J&J wants to take away from consumers and have destroyed are those that help Americans get prepared for life’s emergencies,” Mr. Everson said. “I hope that the courts and Congress will not allow Johnson & Johnson to bully the American Red Cross.”

For more on the Red Cross’s and other charity licensing arrangements, as well as controversy surrounding Red Cross’s marketing efforts, read The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s recent coverage.

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