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 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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