Red Cross Gets OK to Market Emblem

May 20, 2008

The American Red Cross (ARC) won a victory against Johnson & Johnson last week in a trial that had turned into a David versus Goliath battle over a symbol synonymous with help and unity—the red cross.

Federal Judge Jed Rakoff sided with ARC, ruling that the charity organization had the legal right to use the symbol on packaging of products it sells, including first aid kits.

"We are thrilled about the judge's ruling, because it means that we can continue to use our emblem on products that help facilitate our mission and provide consumers with products that help protect their families," ARC spokesperson Mary Havell told Pharm Exec on Tuesday. "It's been a shame that we had to waste our valuable resources that should have been devoted to helping people affected by disasters and helping to save lives."

The Red Cross has been using the symbol since 1881, nearly a quarter of a century before J&J trademarked the same symbol in 1905. The two organizations used the symbol with no conflict for over a century. But in August 2007, J&J sued ARC, claiming that ARC was illegally using the emblem to market products?in effect, breaking agreement that ARC could use the cross as long as it wasn't for the sale of goods.

Last November, Rakoff dismissed J&J's claim of "promissory estoppel," agreeing with the ARC that without a physical document, the agreement could not be proven.

"We are disappointed that the court rejected our claims involving ARC's commercial uses of the emblem," J&J's director of corporate communications Marc Monseau stated on the company blog. "We are reviewing the decision, and look forward to continuing this process to resolve our legal dispute with the American Red Cross."

A hearing is set for July 8 on the remaining issues in the lawsuit, but ARC sees last week's ruling as a major victory.