Suing For The Cure?

Justice or Just Sh!t?

About a year ago, I applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register the name of this blog.  Turned out to be an exercise in futility.  They do try, the USPTO, I’ll give them that.  They provide instructions, videos, fact sheets, and a database you can search to see if someone else has already trademarked or copyrighted a certain phrase or logo design.  Somehow, I managed to slog my way through the process, submitted my application, paid my fee (which was NOT cheap), and several months later, was turned down.  Then I started getting emails from lawyers who offered (for another fee) to plead my case for me.  I did a little more research, and concluded that, like other government application processes, such as the hoops some of my patients jump through trying to get disability status, they just automatically turn everyone down the first time they apply.   It’s a test, I believe, to see if you really, really do have cerebral palsy or a unique blog name, or are just some weasel trying to scam the system.  If that is the intent, I’m afraid that it doesn’t work very well, because it just makes life much more difficult for anyone who really is disabled, as well as for someone like me, a mere cancer survivor just trying to get the word out.  In my cynical moments, I think perhaps the whole set-up is a scam that rewards lawyers.

Is it any wonder, then, that the United States of America has become the United States of Litigation?  In one of the latest installments in what could be deemed “The Saga of the Troublesome Torts,” the August 5, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal reported that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a charity which raises money to fund programs and research for breast cancer, was suing several other, smaller charities and organizations over the use of the phrase, “for the cure,” in their names or event slogans, as well as the use of the color pink.  One of these organizations used the phrase, “Kites for the Cure” to raise money for lung cancer by holding an event in which participants made and flew colorful kites to generate donations.  The small group refused to roll over and eventually reached a compromise to ensure that future advertising would include the words “lung cancer” in conjunction with the words “for the cure” to mitigate confusion.

I tried to find some specifics about Komen’s official policy on all of this.  I managed to find my way to a page on their site called, “Terms of Use,” which was not, in fact, very useful, unless perhaps you have a law degree.  Then I returned to the site of my old friends, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and searched TESS, their Trademark Electronic Search System, for the phrase, “for the cure.”  It was unexpectedly illuminating.  There were 499 trademark applications using “for the cure” or “for a cure,” including a foundation for children with brain tumors, another for people with Parkinson’s Disease, and still another called “Critters for the Cure,” that uses animal-paw-printed items to help raise money for all kinds of life-threatening diseases.   Tour for the Cure is trademarked by the Dearborn County Convention, Visitor & Tourism Bureau in Indiana, which raises money for breast cancer locally by organizing travel and events in Indiana. They donate 100% of the money they raise to the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, a charity started by the designer’s daughter and another woman in 1993, after losing a friend of theirs to breast cancer.  None of these groups is affiliated with Susan G. Komen, and as far as I know, none of them is currently being sued.  Although I suppose that could change.

I didn’t wade through all 499 listings in the database, but while I did note that many of the applications were made by Susan G. Komen to cover dozens of variations of “for the cure” phrases, many were not.   The latter included “Par for the Cure,” a celebrity classic golf tournament that has held the trademark for their name since November of 2005.  I could not find a lot of details about how many of these groups SGK has contacted or plans to sue, but aside from the apparent snarkiness of their efforts, one of the more troubling aspects of this activity is how much money may be involved in pursuing it.

Breast cancer survivor Alicia C. Staley recently posted an article about this on the site Wego Health called “Lawsuits for the Cure?” in which she listed part of SGK’s financial statement for 2009 in order to tease out how much money actually went to research “for the cure” in that year.  In a follow-up article on the entire brouhaha, Eric Rosenthal, Special Correspondent for Oncology Times, attempted to shed some light on the subject.  Among other folks on both sides of the debate, he spoke with Jonathan Blum, the attorney for SGK, who said that, in fact, there have never been any lawsuits filed against other nonprofit organizations over the issue.  Mr. Blum explained that they have a watchdog group which reports when any group files with the USPTO to trademark a phrase that includes “for the cure.”  They don’t bother contacting organizations that are not working in the same realm, he claims, only those who are also doing fundraising, because that is the realm in which the phrase may cause confusion among potential donors.  But the first contact is not a lawsuit.  Rather, Mr. Blum states, “as soon as we learn about it, we contact these people on the front end before they have invested heavily in the name or expended significant resources and work with them to find a suitable arrangement.”  This was the experience described by “Kites for the Cure,” which was characterized as “cordial,” but still unpleasant, inconvenient, and costly.

All of this leaves me at something of a loss.   I have several hard-working, sincere and beautiful friends who have volunteered their time and efforts for SGK in one way or another.   They have themselves survived “The Stalker,” and their motives are only the best.  I have several more survivor friends who are also sincere and hard-working and beautiful, who have been completely turned off by SGK’s Goliath activities. Ultimately, the most disturbing thing in all this is its utter futility. You can’t help noticing that, despite the millions of dollars that have been spent on research, nary a dent has been made, at least in this country, in the annual mortality rate for breast cancer.  Here’s a quote from a previous post: “In 1991, in the U.S. alone, 43,435 women died of breast cancer, or 119 every day that year.  This year, despite the tremendous amounts of money spent on research, 110 women still die from breast cancer every day, which comes out to an estimated 40,150 women who [died] in 2010.  That’s not a lot of progress for a span of 35 years.”   [“What’s Wrong With Pink.”]

In the cold light of reality, wrangling over who gets to use the words, “for the cure,” to raise money seems rather pointless.  So far, that phrase has turned out to be woefully empty.

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This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Tuesday, January 04, 2011 at 03:01 pm, filed under Attitude, Fighting the Pink Peril, Making A Difference, Nitty Gritty and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

10 Responses to “Suing For The Cure?”

  1. It is depressing to read this Kathi. All the efforts of all those causes and all the money we raise in their name really have done little or nothing to the overall picture. Where do we go from here?

  2. I don’t know, Tara. It’s very sobering. The National Breast Cancer Coalition started their initiative to end breast cancer by 2020, which involves trying to re-focus research into the most promising directions. I hope it accomplishes its goals, but I can’t even wrap my brain around why we haven’t gotten much further overall.

  3. The number of deaths per day from breast cancer literally made me gasp. Our reality is very scarey.

  4. Not only are Komen engaging in these morally reprehensible lawsuits but it seems they are also trying to rewrite the definition of the word “cure” (See this discussion which is a follow-up to Alicia’s article
    I’ve asked this before, and once again I find myself wondering what Susan G Komen herself would think of all this? This is not behavior this organization should be proud of, and is in fact alienating the very people it originally set out to help.

  5. No, it’s not, Anna. I can’t imagine what Susan herself would think of all this. Their behavior is really inexplicable. I don’t buy their arguments at all. Have you read Pink Ribbon Blues yet? It’s pretty astonishing to read about the behind-the-scenes motives. I am working on a post about it. Hugs to you. I feel better knowing that there are at least a few of us who are trying to get the word out & keep it real.

  6. FYI Kathi,

    Komen has issued a response to the claims that they are out to sue or object to the use of the “for the cure” name:

  7. Interesting, Joi. Thanks for sending that. Well, I think that’s what I ended up reporting, that they did not actually sue anyone, but that they have contacted several organizations. Of course, they don’t address whether they really have grounds to insist people not use the phrase or what their rationale is. Tant pis…

  8. OMG…It is so sad to read this . Their behavior is really mysterious. It is very scarey.

  9. […] in the breast cancer blogosphere as spurious at worst and lame at best. My own previous blog post, “Suing for the Cure?” cited an article in Oncology Times, which included statements made by Komen’s legal counsel, […]

  10. […] in the breast cancer blogosphere as spurious at worst and lame at best. My own previous blog post, “Suing for the Cure?” cited an article in Oncology Times, which included statements made by Komen’s legal counsel, […]

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