January 5th, 2010
The Huffington Post
By: Laura Bassett
In addition to raising millions of dollars a year for breast cancer research, fundraising giant Susan G. Komen for the Cure has a lesser-known mission that eats up donor funds: patrolling the waters for other charities and events around the country that use any variation of “for the cure” in their names.
So far, Komen has identified and filed legal trademark oppositions against more than a hundred of these Mom and Pop charities, including Kites for a Cure, Par for The Cure, Surfing for a Cure and Cupcakes for a Cure–and many of the organizations are too small and underfunded to hold their ground.
“It happened to my family,” said Roxanne Donovan, whose sister runs Kites for a Cure, a family kite-flying event that raises money for lung cancer research. “They came after us ferociously with a big law firm. They said they own ‘cure’ in a name and we had to stop using it, even though we were raising money for an entirely different cause.”
Donovan’s sister, Mary Ann Tighe, said the Komen foundation sent her a letter asking her to stop using the phrase “for a cure” in their title and to never use the color pink in conjunction with their fundraising. What bothered her most about the whole ordeal, she said, was that Komen forced her to spend money and time on legal fees and proceedings instead of raising funds for cancer.
“We were certainly taken aback by it,” she told HuffPost. “We have partners running these kite events around the country. What if one of them uses, say, magenta? Is that pink? I mean, where are we going with this? We just want to raise money for cancer. What we don’t want is to have our energy misplaced by having our charity partners trying to police the good work that we’re doing.”
Sue Prom, who started a small dog sledding fundraiser for breast cancer called “Mush for the Cure” in Grand Marais, Minn., said she was shocked to hear from Komen’s lawyers this summer asking that she change the name of her event or face legal proceedings.
“I had to call the trademark helpline, because I had no idea what I was doing,” said Prom, who runs the annual sled race with her husband and friend. “We pay for the expenses out of our pockets, and we’ve never personally made a dime from it. We have t-shirts, sweatshirts, domain names, posters, stationery, all with ‘Mush for the Cure’ on it. What do we do with all the materials now? How are we gonna defend ourselves? We’re not like Komen.”
Prom said she’s been running the event for six years, and the most she has raised for the National Breast Cancer Foundation is $25,000. Before the NBCF could accept the money, they warned her to file for a trademark to protect her event legally against the Komen Foundation. But now that Komen has opposed Mush’s trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Prom is looking for a pro bono lawyer to help her figure out what to do next.
“I think it’s a shame,” she said. “It’s not okay. People don’t give their money to the Komen Foundation and they don’t do their races and events so that Komen can squash any other fundraising efforts by individuals. That’s not what it’s about.”
Komen’s general counsel, Jonathan Blum, told HuffPost that the fundraising powerhouse tries to be reasonable when dealing with small charities and nonprofits, but that it has a legal duty to protect its more than 200 registered trademarks.
“It’s never our goal to shut down a nonprofit,” he said, “and we try very hard to be reasonable, but it’s still our obligation to make sure that our trademarks are used appropriately so there’s no confusion in the marketplace over where people’s money is going.”
Blum told HuffPost that legal fees comprise a “very small part” of Komen’s budget, but according to Komen’s financial statements, such costs add up to almost a million dollars a year in donor funds.
“I think it’s important that charities protect their brand, but on the other hand, I don’t think the donors’ intent in giving their money was to fund a turf war,” said Sandra Minuitti, a spokesperson for Charity Navigator. “It’s very important that Komen treads carefully and is very transparent about how they’re spending money on these legal battles.”
Michael Mercanti, an intellectual property lawyer, said he is surprised by the large number of oppositions Komen has filed against other charities–a number he would expect from a company like Toys”R”Us or McDonalds, but not a charitable fundraising organization.
“They seem to be very aggressive in policing their mark, or what they’re claiming to be their mark,” he told HuffPost. “I guess there are a lot of ways to captain a ship, but it seems like there are ways they could protect and police their trademarks and also allow other charities to coexist.”
Mercanti said filing hundreds of oppositions is not only damaging to other charities, but could also be counterproductive for Komen’s brand.
“They could actually be seen as being a bully,” he said. “They’re going to alienate some donors who don’t appreciate them stepping on smaller, worthwhile charities.”
With the help of a team of pro bono lawyers, Kites for a Cure was able to reach a settlement with Komen: They agreed to only use the phrase “for a Cure” in conjunction with the words “lung cancer” to make the distinction clear. But Tighe said they reached a settlement only after many, many months of a free legal team working long hours each day.
“We were very fortunate because we had strong support from knowledgeable pro bono counsel, but it did seem like a misdirection of a lot of people’s energy,” she told HuffPost. “I don’t know what smaller organizations do without free representation.”
Sue Prom said Tighe has already put her in touch with her pro bono legal team, and she is prepared to fight for the name of her sledding event in court. The ordeal has changed her opinion of Komen.
“I used to give money to Komen all the time, but now I’m just kind of wary of them,” she said. “I’m not buying Yoplait yogurt or anything that has the word ‘Komen’ on it. They seem to have forgotten what charity is about.”
August 20th, 2010
By: Neill Hughes
Relying on a user’s picture or the sound of their voice, future portable devices from Apple like an iPhone or iPad could recognize individuals who pick up and use the item.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week revealed a patent application from Apple entitled “Systems and Methods for Identifying Unauthorized Users of an Electronic Device.” The security-centric invention describes methods to identify users through a picture, the sound of their voice, or even their unique heartbeat.
“The photograph, recording, or heartbeat can be compared, respectively, to a photograph, recording or heartbeat of authorized users of the electronic device to determine whether they match,” the application reads. “If they do not match, the current user can be detected as an unauthorized user.”
If an unauthorized user were to attempt to access an iPhone or another device, the owner of the handset could be notified in a variety of manners, including a phone call, text message or e-mail. It could even send the owner — or the police — a picture of the unauthorized user, or other information specific to the potential thief, such as the current location.
The handset could also recognize an unauthorized user if they do certain uncharacteristic activities with the phone. Specifically named are hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking, or removing a SIM card.
But beyond security, such technology could also be used to identify individual users and allow users who share a product, like an iPad, to customize it to their liking. Apple has shown interest in such capabilities for some time.
In January, before the iPad was announced, The Wall Street Journal revealed that an early prototype of the device would use a camera to recognize users’ faces, allowing it to be one device easily shared by the entire family. Apple reportedly experimented with the ability to customize the device, and have it automatically switch to a user’s personal settings once they picked it up.
One early feature included virtual “sticky notes” that one user could leave for another, and would be read the next time they picked up the iPad.
Apple’s security-centric patent application was first filed on Feb. 19, 2009. It is credited to Taido Nakajima, Pareet Rahul and Gloria Lin.
The invention is also not the first time Apple has explored recognizing users by their heartbeat. One patent application revealed in May dealt specifically with that technology, describing a heart rate monitor seamlessly built in to the exterior of an iPhone. Reading a user’s unique biometric data, the iPhone could then recognize them.
January 29, 2010
By Lou Carlozo
You couldn’t blame Lauren McClusky of Chicago if she were a bit squeamish about using her last name in this story without fear of reprisal from Ronald McDonald and his legal posse.
For McClusky, 19, finds herself at the center of a thorny dispute that involves a series of charity concerts she’s put on over the past three years. She dubbed the event “McFest” (more on that in a moment) — but McDonald’s sees that as an infringement on its trademarks, something the McDonaldland lawyers refer to as “the McFamily of brands.”
These include (deep breath): McPen, McBurger, McBuddy, McWatch, McDouble, McJobs, McShirt, McPool, McProduct, McShades, McFree, McRuler, McLight — and even the prefix “Mc” itself.
“But not McFest,” pointed out McClusky, who declined to change her last name for this story. “The whole reason I called it McFest in the first place is my name.”
Her original co-chair for the first McFest also shared the “Mc” prefix in her surname, so it seemed a natural. And indeed, not a single McDonald’s attorney seemed to object in 2007 and 2008, when McClusky’s McFests raised $30,000 for the Chicago chapter of Special Olympics.
But when McClusky applied to have the McFest name protected, McDonald’s filed an opposition. So instead of donating funds from her 2009 concert to Special Olympics, McClusky’s had to hire lawyers to answer a series of administrative proceedings McDonald’s filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To date, it’s cost her roughly $5,000 — money she wishes had gone to Special Olympics kids instead of attorneys.
The daughter of independent radio promoter Jeff McClusky, Lauren McClusky could of course just change the event name. But that would involve starting from square one in terms of the awareness and name recognition she’s already created for her concert series. “It’s hard to change the name of something that’s already established and locally known,” she said.
As for McDonald’s actions, McClusky says she’s frustrated by the company’s desire to clamp down on and in effect penalize a charity event — especially when McDonald’s supports Special Olympics as well. “It has nothing to do with food, arches or their colors,” she said. “And our M’s are pointy, not curved.”
McClusky hopes for a truce that will allow her to keep the McFest name. Still, she’s unwilling to make a corporate sponsorship tradeoff along the lines of “McDonald’s Presents McFest.” For their part, McDonald’s representatives maintained that they have no desire to squash McClusky’s charitable efforts, and desire an “amicable resolution.”