With the Olympics getting underway in London, a whole new series of legal wrestling matches has begun: actions against charities with the temerity to use the word “Olympics” in their own event name. Greentop Community Circus found this out the hard way, after being forced to change its “Olympics Cabaret” into a plain old “Cabaret.” (See “Olympic bosses order circus charity event to change name.”)
That’s British trademark law at work, of course, but don’t think for a minute that U.S. companies — including some big-name nonprofits — are any less vigilant about using our home-grown version of trademark law to protect their brand.
McDonald’s, for example, went after 19-year-old Lauren McCluskey for naming a series of charity concerts that she organized “McFest.” Never mind that, as she said, “The whole reason I called it McFest in the first place is my name.”
As discussed earlier in this blog, the Susan B. Komen foundation has sued smaller groups for using the color pink or any variation of “for the cure.” According to Richard Eskow, writing for the Huff Post earlier this year, the foundation has “pursued high-dollar litigation and intimidation tactics against other charities. Uniting Against Lung Cancer was targeted for the offense of holding a ‘Kites for the Cure’ event. They’ve also attacked ‘Par for the Cure,’ ‘Surfing for a Cure,’ ‘Cupcakes for a Cure,’ and ‘Mush for the Cure.’”
In what must have been the greatest expenditure of time and legal fees for the smallest result, earlier this year the musical venue Wolf Trap sued “The Barns of Rose Hill” over its name, which arguably infringed on that of Wolf Trap’s venue called “The Barns of Wolf Trap.” They reached a settlement in which “The Barns” removed the “The” from its name. It’s now just “Barns of Rose Hill.” Everybody happy now? (See “Wolf Trap, Barns of Rose Hill settle suit” in the Washington Post.)
The bottom line: When developing names, themes, logos, and tag lines for your nonprofit’s events, take a look around to see what local or multinational businesses you may be echoing — whether intentionally (as is often the case, when it makes a nice pun) or unintentionally. Run some Google searches. See Nolo’s free online articles on “Trademark Law.” And when in doubt, consult an attorney.