Global Processing

NY judge tosses most of J&J lawsuit vs US Red Cross

May 16, 2008
The Associated Press is reporting that a federal judge has tossed out most of a lawsuit in which the health-products maker Johnson & Johnson claimed that the American Red Cross broke the law by licensing its famous red and white symbol to other companies.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, made public recently, is the latest blow to Johnson & Johnson in a bitter trademark battle launched in August over the use of the red cross logo, which the two entities have shared for more than a century.

Originally, the trademark infringement suit demanded that the Red Cross stop using its emblem on health care products sold to the public.

A good chunk of the lawsuit was dismissed in November, but Johnson & Johnson persisted with a claim that the Red Cross, in licensing its logo to third parties, broke a federal law making it a crime for anyone to use the insignia "for the fraudulent purpose of inducing the belief that he is a member of or an agent for the American National Red Cross."

Rakoff rejected that argument, too. He said that when Congress chartered the Red Cross and gave it the near-exclusive right to use the red cross emblem, it also gave the group leeway to use the logo to promote itself and raise money for its charitable works.

Since then, the American Red Cross has licensed the symbol many times, to companies including manufacturers of first aid supply kits, watchmakers and the jeweler Tiffany & Co.

Johnson & Johnson''s interpretation of the law, Rakoff wrote, "would criminalize not only the licensing agreements that, as noted above, ARC has been entering into for more than a century, but also a host of other familiar and traditional ARC activities."

The judge left intact only a small part of the suit, which contends that the Red Cross purposefully interfered with Johnson & Johnson''s business relationship with two health care supply companies, Water-Jel Technologies Inc. and First Aid Only Inc.

He also dismissed a Red Cross counterclaim in which the organization said Johnson & Johnson was, itself, engaging in trademark violations by using the red cross symbol on certain products.

Johnson & Johnson spokesman Marc Monseau said the company was disappointed that the judge rejected its argument regarding commercial uses of the emblem, but pleased that it was cleared to continue using the red cross as its trademark.

The company began using the symbol in 1887, six years after the creation of the American Red Cross, but prior to the creation of the group''s federal charter in 1900. Johnson & Johnson''s use of the trademark was grandfathered under a 1905 law.

The general counsel and acting president of the American Red Cross, Mary S. Elcano, called the ruling vindication for the group.